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Rumor Mill News Reading Room Archive

Report on Lawrence's Death

Posted By: Patriotlad
Date: Wednesday, 28-Feb-2001 10:25:26

In Response To: To Spark A New (Swiss) Thread (Patriotlad)

Nine months after her husband died, Shelia Davis Lawrence contributed $50,856 to the Democratic National Committee: she was then "awarded" a plot at Arlington Cemetery for her late husband, M. Larry Lawrence. She also contributed to the Senate campaign of Max Cleland of Georgia (only the limit, $1000), in '96. Here is the news report on Larry Lawrence, immediately following his death:

From Page A-1 of the San Diego Union-Tribune, January 10, 1996:

Staff Writer
10-Jan-1996 Wednesday
M. Larry Lawrence

M. Larry Lawrence, a tough businessman who restored the Hotel del Coronado to grandeur, and made his mark in California and nationally as both a philanthropist and a Democratic Party activist, died yesterday.

Mr. Lawrence, 69, who was U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, died there at his home in Bern, in the arms of his wife, Shelia Davis Lawrence.

He had suffered from leukemia and a blood disorder that may have suppressed his immune system and made him susceptible to infections, sources close to Mr. Lawrence said.

A prolific contributor to Democratic causes and candidates, Mr. Lawrence was nominated ambassador to Switzerland in 1993 by President Clinton, ....

He was confirmed as ambassador in March 1994 -- but not before his opponents raised the issue of excessive contributions to Democratic campaigns.

In 1994, the Federal Election Commission said Mr. Lawrence exceeded a $25,000 limit on the amount an individual can give to help finance an election campaign in one year. He was fined $7,179, the amount of his excess contributions.

"Larry was a good friend and a valued colleague who brought his abundant energy and fresh vision to every task he undertook," President Clinton said yesterday.

"He was a tireless and effective advocate of U.S. interests, especially the promotion of U.S. exports and commercial ties."

Gov. Pete Wilson described Mr. Lawrence as a man whose "generosity matched his passion" and who "spoke his mind and acted on his convictions, even if I did not share his views."

Mr. Lawrence began to gain local prominence in 1963, when he and fellow investors bought the Hotel Del from the Alessio family of San Diego. The elegant Victorian structure, built in 1888, had begun to fall into disrepair and needed extensive renovation.

It was Mr. Lawrence's initial plan to develop the land around the hotel and ultimately demolish it, but he changed his mind and poured millions of dollars into refurbishing the hotel in period style and nearly doubling its capacity to 700 rooms.

Former Democratic Congressman Lionel Van Deerlin yesterday credited Mr. Lawrence as one of the key business leaders who became major advocates for building the San Diego-Coronado Bridge.

"He was a self-made man who became a giant," said San Diego Mayor Susan Golding. "He was an incredible businessman, served his country well as a U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and gave to his community in a generous and caring way."

In 1991, Forbes magazine named Mr. Lawrence among the 400 richest Americans and estimated his fortune at $315 million.

Even before his appointment as ambassador, Mr. Lawrence was a presence in Washington. He and wife Shelia bought the Georgetown mansion once owned by Alexander Graham Bell and hosted A-list parties. The Clintons invited the Lawrences aboard Air Force One and to sleep in the White House [that's a big surprise!].

As a philanthropist, Mr. Lawrence and his wife contributed between $1 million and $3 million annually to the charities and the arts, he said in a recent interview.

He also was active in the Jewish community and contributed heavily to the building fund of the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in the Golden Triangle area.

Rabbi Michael Sternfield of Chicago, formerly of the Congregation Beth Israel, which Mr. Lawrence attended in San Diego, said he recently visited his friend in a Swiss hospital.

"It was (an illness) that he had fought for years and he amazingly managed to persevere," Sternfield said.

"I believe that he was unique in San Diego as a Jewish leader.

"He was an intensely loyal human being who had tremendous commitments to other people and to causes." Among his passions was the state of Israel.

Born Maurice Larry Lawrence in Chicago, he grew up in a flat on top of his father's grocery store during the Depression. At age 9, he began working outside the home to support his divorced mother.

After high school, he served in the Merchant Marine and was aboard a ship that was torpedoed in the North Atlantic during World War II [this, of course, was a complete fabrication].

Mr. Lawrence went through the University of Arizona on a football scholarship, supplementing his income by washing dishes in a sorority house and waiting tables in a restaurant [this should be questioned, as well!].

His boyhood years in Chicago shaped his political leanings. The city was a stronghold of solid Democratic machine politics, and Lawrence once told an interviewer, "I never knew a Republican. Where I came from there weren't any."

His first venture into politics was working in 1948 for Adlai E. Stevenson's gubernatorial campaign in Illinois.

Mr. Lawrence came to San Diego in 1953, continued his political activities and worked in real estate development.

Over the years, he gained power and influence in Democratic political circles as both a contributor to candidates' campaigns and a fund-raiser.

Dick Silberman, a former investment partner, said, "Clearly he was one of the most colorful and significant individuals in San Diego business and politics for three or four decades."

One of Mr. Lawrence's earliest political passions was opposition to the Vietnam War. Political consultant Larry Remer, then a liberal activist, said San Diego groups frequently turned to Mr. Lawrence to finance their anti-war activities.

"For all the grief he put you through and all the ego you had to put up with, he came through when it counted," Remer said.

Mr. Lawrence was involved over the years in the mayoral campaign of Tom Bradley in Los Angeles, the congressional campaigns of Van Deerlin and the presidential campaigns of former President Carter, Ohio Sen. John Glenn and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

To friends, he lamented the long string of losers he had supported, dating from Eugene McCarthy's bid for the presidency in 1968. His fortunes were dramatically reversed when Bill Clinton entered the White House.

Another winner Mr. Lawrence backed was Maureen O'Connor, San Diego's mayor from 1986 to 1992.

"He supported me from the time in 1971 when I was a 25-year-old girl taking a shot at City Council," O'Connor said.

Mr. Lawrence seldom strayed from the Democratic fold, as he did in the 1974 California governor's race when he backed Republican Houston I. Flournoy against Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown.

Mr. Lawrence, who had supported Brown's father, former Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Sr., said he felt that the younger Brown, 36 at the time, was not qualified for the top state post.

Mr. Lawrence's choice ignited heated rhetoric and created a lingering animosity between the two.

When Brown was elected, Lawrence gave him a self-portrait as a gag, he said, in hopes that the joke would cushion the hostility of the campaign, when Mr. Lawrence had branded Brown as "an arrogant punk."

The new governor was not amused. The portrait was returned to Mr. Lawrence, as were all the other congratulatory gifts sent to the governor.

The pair buried the hatchet recently, Brown said, when Mr. Lawrence met him for breakfast in San Francisco.

"He never forgot his humble beginnings and was hugely generous," said Stan Foster, a San Diego business executive and friend.

Fifty local and national charities and organization were given contributions totaling $1.5 million from a three-day 100th birthday celebration for the Hotel del Coronado in 1988. National organizations that received contributions included the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation.

"Larry was a benefactor to many of UCSD's outstanding programs and the university owes him a significant debt of gratitude," said Richard Atkinson, president of the University of California system.

In 1991, the San Diego Regional Cancer Center received a $358,000 grant from Mr. Lawrence. Earlier, he wrote a check for $227,500 for research at Harvard Medical School and donated handsomely to San Diego State University.

Mr. Lawrence was in his fourth marriage at the time of his death. His first wife was Geraldine Slesnick, with whom he had three children.

After their divorce in July 1976, he married Michala Ann Lee on Dec. 25, 1976. His third wife was Jeanne Woolery Lawrence, currently of New York, whom he married Oct. 4, 1981.

He married Shelia Davis Lawrence on June 9, 1990.

Concern for his health influenced his decisions in recent years. Mr. Lawrence told friends that when a variety of potential ambassadorships was under discussion he informed the White House that he could only consider a Western country with modern health care facilities [other reports indicate he insisted on Switzerland].

Mr. Lawrence had developed a blood disorder called "blood dyscrasia," a source said yesterday. The disorder is characterized by an imbalance in components of the blood.

Survivors include his wife, Shelia; three daughters, Leslie Caspi of San Diego, Andrea Lawrence of Germany and Stephanie Lawrence of New York; a son, Robert Lawrence of San Diego; and six grandchildren.

Memorial services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday at Hotel del Coronado. Burial arrangements are pending [and multiplied!].

Donations are suggested to two scholarship programs for minority women at the University of Arizona: The M. Larry Lawrence Graduate Fellowship and the M. Larry Lawrence Undergraduate Scholarship Program for Minority Women.

RMN is an RA production.

Articles In This Thread

To Spark A New (Swiss) Thread
Patriotlad -- Wednesday, 28-Feb-2001 06:40:06
Denial By Shelia, Friend of Bill
Patriotlad -- Wednesday, 28-Feb-2001 07:48:48
Report on Lawrence's Death
Patriotlad -- Wednesday, 28-Feb-2001 10:25:26

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