Wilson Beale Pearson, at 85, chief usher at Lyric Theatre

January 04, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Wilson Beale Pearson, a longtime chief usher at what is now the Lyric Theatre, died Sunday at the Meridian Nursing Center-Cromwell in Towson of complications to Alzheimer's disease. He was 85.

Known to regular Lyric patrons for his efficiency and encyclopedic knowledge of classical music, opera and ballet, Mr. Pearson was a fixture there for more than 30 years, beginning as a program boy in 1925. He was promoted to usher a year later.

"You could ask him about all of the major orchestras in the country," recalled Robert M. Pomory, Lyric Inc. president and chief executive officer, who worked as an usher under Mr. Pearson 51 years ago. "He knew the names of all of the conductors and who played first chair. He was very well read."

Born and raised in South Baltimore, Mr. Pearson attended Southern High School and the Polytechnic Institute and studied auto mechanics at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, graduating in 1929.

As a youngster, he developed a love of the arts, especially opera and classical music, that would shape his life.

He spent his days working at First National Bank but his nights revolved around the Lyric. He was chief usher from 1935 until the early 1960s, attending to crowds that packed the Lyric for everything from Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concerts to school commencements.

For a brief period in the 1940s, he was assistant house manager at the Lyric.

As chief usher, his manner was as formal as the tuxedo he elected to don for his job.

"He was very stern," said Mr. Pomory. "We [ushers] had to be on our posts at all times. We couldn't be late or he would give us a scolding. But I always liked him."

A 1959 Sun article portrayed Mr. Pearson as a study in efficiency: After arriving at the Lyric at 6 p.m. for 12 performances a month, he prepared an assistant, nine ushers, two doorkeepers, three maids and a porter for the arrival of patrons.

As head usher, a position denoted by the red ribbon emblazoned with the title that he wore across his chest, his key tasks included handling complaints and solving any seating discrepancies among patrons.

He was so well-known by regular Lyric patrons that many ould ask him to pass messages to other patrons, the article said.

Mr. Pearson noted in the article that the only time he sat down for a concert was when he traveled to New York for Metropolitan Opera performances.

He worked at First National Bank from 1930 to 1972, except for a three-year break for military service during World War II.

He held several positions at branches, including bookkeeper and assistant head teller. He retired as vault custodian in the trust department.

In the Army, he was a financial technical clerk at several military posts in this country and was discharged in 1945 as a staff sergeant.

Mr. Pearson was the fourth eldest child in a family of eight children headed by a railroad worker and a homemaker. His love of classical music began at home where his mother played the piano and his father and several sisters sang, said his sister, Grace Pearson Cameron of Towson. While he was not musically talented, he learned to appreciate fine performances, she added.

Mr. Pearson was an elder and a lifetime member of the Light Street Presbyterian Church where he taught Sunday School. He lived at the Marylander Apartments, 3501 St. Paul St., for years before going to the nursing home six years ago.

Services are private.

Other survivors include a brother, Arthur M. Pearson of New York; and 17 nieces and nephews.

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