Robert ‘Bob’ Lawrence Jr.

Published 2:30 pm Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Robert D. “Bob” Lawrence Jr., 81, last surviving member of the Commission Council form of government in Bogalusa, founder of the Cassidy Park Development Commission, Bogue Chitto District and Istrouma Council Scouting leader and an editor of the Bogalusa Daily News in the 1960s and 70s, passed away peacefully in his sleep at his home in Slidell on Thursday evening, Sept. 12, 2019.

Lawrence was founder and for 11 years chairman of the Cassidy Park Development Commission, later known as the Bogalusa Parks and Recreation Commission. The Bogalusa Indian and Pioneer Museums were built, and many other existing improvements were made such as an alligator pond and feel and touch zoo during his tenure as chairman.

Lawrence’s frequent editorials, speeches and columns in the Bogalusa Daily News urging immediate re-opening and cleanup of the closed and overgrown park led Mayor Curt Siegelin to offer him a $10,000 city check to use to rebuild the park with volunteer labor. “You want it done, so you will be saddled with getting it done. Let’s say I am calling your bluff” Siegelin said. With all the volunteer labor and donations raised, it took several years to spend all the city money.

Lawrence chose a group of five volunteers to serve on the newly created commission. Only Richard “Dick” Lively, vice chairman, and Tom Montero, treasurer, survive as founding members. Hundreds of volunteers of all races came out to do thousands of hours of volunteer labor cleaning the park, clearing away by hand the undergrowth and returning the park to its current state. Civic groups and garden clubs bought benches and tables for picnicking. The Bricklayers’ Union Local laid bricks for the Indian Museum and the fountains and later, an elevated garden outside the museum. The Bogalusa Electricians Local wired the museum and concession, and the Carpenters Local built the concession and finished the museums’ interiors. Other individuals and groups donated money and time to develop the park, then still owned by heir to the Great Southern Lumber Company, The Crown Zellerbach Corporation. Lawrence persuaded Crown’s Southern Timber Manager, Raymond Thibodaux, to donate the land from Crown Zellerbach to the City of Bogalusa, which was completed prior to Lawrence handing over the reins of the park to his successor.

Citizens of all races, working shoulder to shoulder in the park became a “Small healing experience,” Lawrence always said, for a city divided over the tragic incident a decade earlier when African-American citizens attempted to peacefully integrate the park’s wading pool. After the ‘60s incident, the city closed the park and barricaded the entryway with large mounds of earth. The park remained closed and abandoned for several years until reopened by Lawrence and the new park commission. During the period of closure, vandals destroyed the restrooms, put graffiti on the pavilion walls, and the park was a desolate and abandoned property.

Lawrence was a member and long-time college-away Sunday School teacher for the First Baptist Church of Bogalusa. The Bogalusa Jaycees named Lawrence “Outstanding Young Man of the Year” in 1972. He served as founder and advisor of Explorer Post 106, Istrouma Council Chairman for Exploring, Bogue Chitto District Chairman for Scouting, chair of the Bogalusa Recreation Trust for the estate of Mr. and Mrs. Rayford Holmes, President of the Washington Parish Conservation League, Sixth District Vice President of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation and chairman of the original Bogalusa home-rule charter commission. He was very proud of the fact most of his Explorers of Post 106 finished college and they all became great leaders and successful citizens.

While in Bogalusa, Lawrence was elected Commissioner of Public Health and Property, closed the city’s burning waste dump to create the first sanitary landfill, reorganized garbage and trash collection routes and schedules to become more efficient, initiated pest eradication, forced cleaning of abandoned lots, eliminated many unsafe and abandoned homes, receiving the Louisiana Municipal Associate Award for outstanding service.

Lawrence later served as the first Director of Public Works under Mayor C. P. Verger’s administration, leading the planning and construction of the Bogalusa Pioneer Museum and creating many new landscapes and fountains around Bogalusa. He helped develop and build many new drainage projects during a period of exceptional rainfall and flooding. A beaver dam in the airport drainage canal caused heavy flooding in the Terrace neighborhood and a subterranean collapse under the National Guard armory crushing the huge drainage line from Avenue B to Bogue Lusa Creek, causing flooding around the city’s post office and Great Southern Lumber Company office complex. Both issues were immediately and permanently corrected and resolved. As Public Works Director, Lawrence had Bogalusa’s City Hall rewired to bring the building up to code, removing all original knob and tube wiring, a fire safety hazard in the 100-year-old heart pine building. Fire Chief Joe Raborn said at the time, “If city hall catches fire, all we can do is put water on the fire station and try to save it.” Heart, old pine lumber burns like turpentine, as was evidenced by the fires that destroyed Bogalusa High School’s original building and the old Cassidy mansion on South Border Drive.

At Lawrence’s encouragement, Cassidy and Wade Construction volunteered to clean the southeastern half of the park, making the entire south side of the creek open for visitors. Over the years, the park has flourished for citizens and visitors and now hosts many annual and seasonal events, including the Bogalusa Blues and Heritage Festival.

Lawrence later served under Willie J. Blair with the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Department. Lawrence left Bogalusa in 1983 for employment as Chief of Sentence Computation and Inmate Records for the Louisiana Department of Corrections’ Adult Services in Baton Rouge.

Lawrence was a veteran of U.S. Army Intelligence, where he served as a Hungarian linguist in Germany after graduating from a 47-week course in Magyar (Hungarian) at the U.S. Army Language School in Monterey, Calif. He married Nancy Carolyn Adcox on Dec. 31, 1959, and they moved to Monterrey for the remainder of the school year.

Lawrence was an alumnus and longtime Washington and St. Tammany Parish Alumni Fund Chairman for the Tulane University of Louisiana, where he majored in Latin and classical history. He was a noted authority on the American Civil War and other aspects of American history, particularly Bogalusa’s history from his hundreds of interviews with old-time Bogalusans. He was a respected photographer, artist and painter who did many portraits in oils and acrylics of Louisiana scenery, famous leaders, family and friends.

After moving to Slidell, Lawrence was an active parishioner of Christ Episcopal Church for 23 years, serving as usher, lector and for then, vestry for two terms. He was elected to one term as secretary and senior warden of the parish. He also served as an adult Sunday school teacher at Christ Church. At the time of his death, he was a parishioner of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Diamondhead, Miss.

Lawrence was a journalist and a writer of fiction and non-fiction novels including three works “A Grievous Burden”, “Hiram Colt” and “Bogalusa Memories.” All three novels are centered on St. Tammany and Washington parishes. He was in the process of writing his fourth novel, which his daughter Allyson will help complete.

Lawrence is survived by his beloved wife of 60 years, Nancy of Slidell; his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Jon (Allyson Lawrence) Lundquist of Roswell, Ga.; four twin grandsons, Daniel Ray Lawrence and James Marshall Lawrence, both of Ponchatoula, and Austin Robert Lundquist and Taylor Dean Lundquist, both of Roswell; his granddaughter, Catherine Messenger Lawrence (Daniel) of Ponchatoula; his sister, Mrs. Ronald (Rebecca Lawrence) Clark of Terrytown, La.; and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Gerald Patrick Lawrence Sr. (Barbara Graham) of Mobile, Ala. Lawrence also leaves behind his constant companion, always at his side, Little Red, a Patterdale terrier.

He was preceded in death by his beloved son, Robert D. “Bert” Lawrence III, father of twins James and Daniel; his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert D. Lawrence Sr. of Bogalusa; his brother, Gerald Patrick Lawrence Sr. of Mobile; his brother-in-law, Ronald Clark (Rebecca Lawrence); his grandparents, Homer and Maud Russell Lawrence and Charles Quitman and Minnie Allman Lee; as well as his much loved step-grandmother, Bessie Pace Lee, all of Bogalusa.

Poole-Ritchie Funeral Home, located at 216 Alabama Ave. in Bogalusa, 985-732-4721, will manage his final arrangements. The family received family and friends at Poole-Ritchie Funeral Home during visitation Tuesday, Sept. 17, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and visitation will continue Wednesday, Sept. 18, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Funeral services will begin Wednesday at 1 p.m. with Father LeBaron Taylor of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Bogalusa officiating. Interment will follow at the Lawrence family plot in Ponemah Cemetery in Bogalusa. Military honors will be presented by Magic City American Legion Post # 24 of Bogalusa. Family and friends are invited to attend a reception immediately following at the B & C Hall, 139 Cumberland St. in Bogalusa (formerly the Bogalusa KC Hall), graciously offered by Mr. and Mrs. Bryan Genco and supported by so many loving friends that are our family from the BHS Class of 1978.

Active pallbearers per Lawrence’s request are the members of Bogalusa Explorer Post 106. In attendance will be Walter “Buddy” Adams, Sid Allen, David Alston, Lee Black, Jason Lumpkin, Danny Norton, Ricky Norton, Dennis Sumrall (honorary), and James “Jimbo” Stillwell of Explorer Post 313. Additional Explorer Post 106 members are Dallas Alston, John Alston, Bert Carrier, Kenneth Carrier (deceased), Ricky Martin, Steve Richardson (deceased), Mike Simm, Ted Tullos, Tim Tullos, David Underwood (deceased).

Honorary pallbearers per Lawrence’s request are Mike Gonzales, John Hopton, Richard “Dick” Lively, Emmett Martin, Scott Martin, James Mohan, Lt. Col. Robert B. Miller, John “Duke” Oatis Jr. (deceased), Carl Ritzman (deceased), Lawrence’s first cousin, Edward “Eddie” Lawrence Jr. and Lawrence’s nephews, Gerald P. “Patrick” Lawrence Jr., Michael Lawrence, David Lawrence, Kenneth Lawrence, Steven Clark, Clyde Adcox, Allen Adcox and Edward Mitchell (Mrs. Jackye Carroll Mitchell).

Charitable donations in memory of Robert D. “Bob” Lawrence Jr. may be made to causes very special and dear to his heart:

  • The Magnolia Chapter of the Humane Society of Louisiana: Make checks payable to Humane Society of Louisiana c/o Magnolia Humane Society, P.O. Box 854, Franklinton, LA 70438 (Phone: 985-241-4290).
  • The Cassidy Park Museums in Bogalusa: Make checks payable to The Cassidy Park Museums, P.O. Box 1373, Bogalusa, LA 70427 (Phone: 985-750-7608).