George Lawrence was a unique educator in more ways than one. He was a teacher, a coach, and an administrator for 38 years of his life and through all of that, he opted to stay with the kids. George Richard Lawrence retired from Sneads High School as principal in 1988 and today, he remains very active, most especially for a 92-years young gentleman. And a gentleman George Richard Lawrence is.
Mr. Lawrence’s philosophy in education was quite simple, “make it about the kids.” Through decade after decade, he taught practically every grade, served as an administrator, and a coach, often all at the same time. Mr. Lawrence says he never had a desire to move to the county office and no desire to run for any political office, “I put the kids first,” he explained,” and there is a special reward to teaching and administration at the school level. My students still visit me today and talk about the influence I had in their lives. For the students, education is the key that unlocks all the doors and for the teachers, I always told them that I was not their boss but their helper.” George Lawrence had a unique teaching method throughout this career, “I used a practical, applied approach to teaching mathematics, for example; We often built our own gym equipment, so we took measurements and I used that in instruction. I asked the students being raised on farms to measure their farm equipment.”
Lawrence’s service to Jackson County took many forms. When he served during the 1950s at the former Dellwood school, located between Grand Ridge and Greenwood, he helped eliminate a health crisis, a continuing problem with ground itch and hookworms. “I asked the students if they had indoor plumbing and many said no,” he said. “We found that they were getting the infections from worms in the fecal matter that had become mixed in the soil around their homes. We took care of those problems, as well as lice infestations, after we were able to ascertain their causes.” Mr. Lawrence indeed comes from another era in the history of America. He endured all the trials and tribulations of the integration process with an open mind and a spirit of cooperation, and, being the disciplinarian that he is, practiced freely the now forbidden measure of corporal punishment (paddling). After John Dekle Milton put him to work in Dellwood in 1950, his position was principal but his duties involved much more. “I taught the seventh and eighth grades, I coached the girls’ softball and boys’ basketball teams and if a bus driver didn’t come in that day, I drove a bus. If the janitor couldn’t take care of everything, I did that too.”
George was born in the Alliance Community, off state road 71 on the Calhoun County line, in 1924 to Charles A. and Jessie Jackson Lawrence. His grandfather Richard Carey Lawrence, who was born in 1818, was in the Marianna Homeguard Unit and wounded at the Battle of Marianna in 1864. Coming from very humble beginnings, George and a friend once walked 15 miles from Alliance to Marianna just to see a high school football game. He went to work at a shipyard in Panama City before being drafted during World War II and serving two and one-half years as a Marine. With his frame of just 5 foot, 6 inches and 135 pounds, he stayed stateside for the remainder of the war; the Marines utilized his experience in the shipyards and that “might have saved my life,” he said. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” he says. “The Corps taught the mental and physical discipline that served me all my life.”
In August 1946 Mr. Lawrence entered college at the Tallahassee Branch of the University of Florida, while FSU was in the beginning stages. He got his BS degree in education in 1950 from FSU and returned there later to get his master’s degree in administration in 1953. He never considered living elsewhere; he wanted to live and work in Jackson County because “that was home.” After Dellwood, he went to the now closed Cypress Junior High school for three years, then Magnolia Junior High School, other schools too numerous to mention, and later served as principal at Campbellton and Greenwood. He served as principal at Sneads Elementary School from 1975 to 1988. Mr. Lawrence saw many superintendents during his tenure with Tim Chase serving as superintendent when he retired.
As to his long life, he attributes “one, be true to yourself; two, eat a variety of food; three, let your spiritual life be not only known but shared with others as well; and four, keep your body regular.” A lay speaker with the Methodist church, he often explains that “God is love. I feel that my life has been blessed and I want to be a blessing to others. The Spirit of the Lord is with you if you allow it!”
George Lawrence has three children, June Mays (Larry), Richard Lawrence (Eugenia), and Kay Tyler (Philip). He has seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
Kay relates a story of a man she met and he realized her George Lawrence was her dad, “Mr. Lawrence, that man used to wear me out! I love that man.” Kay relates that’s the theme of most of the comments she gets referencing her dad. She laughs when she says that he swears he didn’t spank all the students that claim he did but she sure hears that a lot. Kay says that when he had to have his right shoulder replaced at the young age of 90, they joked with him that it was from years of swinging a paddle. She says she is convinced they knew it was out of love for them and a desire for them to be good students and better adults.
Kay says, “Dad owns and maintains several rental properties and although we kids complain to him that he’s much too generous and forgiving. But then he quotes scripture about how we’re supposed to treat the less fortunate and that shuts us up for a while. Being active and serving others has helped keep him young. He’s told me that he doesn’t know why the Lord has left him here so long, but he just wants to be a blessing. He’s definitely that.”