Heritage, Volume 14, Number 3, Summer 1996 Page: 24
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Texas Preservationist Lee Lawrence Dies July 10
It is doubtful that anyone walking
into the Lloyd James Funeral Home in
Tyler was surprised to see the large
Texas flag that draped the casket of F.
Lee Lawrence, who passed away on
July 10 after a lengthy illness. Dedication
to his faith, family, and friends
was paramount in Lee Lawrence's life,
but everyone who knew him, also understood
his great love for Texas and
all that this state represented. It was a
passion that Lee Lawrence pursued
and shared with others for much of his
life, and we have all benefitted from
Born in Paris, Texas, Lee served two
years in the U.S. Navy in World War
II, and returned to live in Tyler. He was
a graduate of Texas Christian University
and the Southern Methodist University
School of Law in 1950. He had
practiced law in Tyler since 1950.
A descendant of James and
Susannah Cunningham, who came to
Texas in 1839 and settled in
Comanche County in 1855, Lee's love
for Texas history began at an early age.
Through his maternal grandfather, Lee
learned valuable information about
his ancestors and life in Texas during
the 1800s. This was information that
Lee absorbed and openly passed along
Because of this great love of Texas
history and his interest in politics,
Lawrence, at the age of 33, caught the
eye of Governor Price Daniel who appointed
him to the Texas Historical
Commission in 1959. Never one to
take a back seat, even in the midst of
Texas legends such as Ima Hogg and
John Ben Shepperd, Lawrence was one
of the primary players in the project
establishing a State Historical Marker
Program for Texas. He traveled across
the state introducing the program, writing
some of the text for the markers,
and overseeing the dedication ceremonies.
Today, there are 11,000 historical
markers in Texas
Lawrence was appointed most recently
to a second term on the Texas
Historical Commission by Governor
George W. Bush.
In addition to his work with the
Commission, Lawrence was named
president of the Texas Historical Foundation
in 1967 and served as a member of that
organization's board from 1959 until his
death. He was appointed to the executive
council of the Texas State Historical Association
in 1970 and served in that capacity
until his appointment as president of the
group in 1978.
Dedication to his faith,
family, and friends was
paramount in Lee
Lawrence's life, but
everyone who knew
him, also understood
his great love for Texas
and all that this state
At the local level, Lawrence was a founding
member and officer of the Smith County
Historical Society, offering his office space
as the meeting site for the first gathering of
that group. He also helped organize and
served as first president of the East Texas
Historical Association at Stephen F. Austin
State University in Nacogdoches.
While serving on the Texas Historical
Commission, Lawrence was instrumental
in organizing historical societies in San
Augustine, Shelby, Gregg, and Rusk Counties.
As a result of his tireless work in historical
preservation, Lawrence was recipient of
many awards that recognized his efforts. He
was the recipient of the Ralph Steen Award
"for distinguished service" to the East Texas
Historical Association and for his work in
preserving East Texas history. The Historical
Foundation honored Lawrence in 1994
with its Mary Moody Northen Award recognizing
achievements in historical preservation
for non-profit groups or individuals.
He received the Ruth Lester Lifetime
Achievement Award, which honors
achievements in historical preservation for
non-profit groups or individuals working
on behalf of those organizations, two years
ago from the Texas Historical Commis
sion. Just weeks ago, the Historical Commission
presented its Governor's Award,
the organization's highest preservation
award, to Lawrence at his home in Tyler
(see page 22).
And while one might think that this
long list of achievements and involvement
might preclude further effort,
Lawrence found time to author two books
and numerous articles in historical publications.
With Dr. Robert W. Glover,
Lawrence co-authored "Camp
Ford,C.S.A: The Story of Union Prisoners
in Texas" in 1964 and more recently
"Texas War Horses". He was also the copublisher
of "Tyler and Smith County,
Texas: An Historical Survey".
This lifetime of achievement was
capped off in 1985 when Lee and his wife
Ann purchased the home place of his
great-great grandfather James Cunningham
in Comanche County and lovingly
restored it to its 1870's state. A fine
collection of rare antiques selected by
the Lawrences evoke the days of the
The Comanche County property
serves as the background for the annual
reunion of Cunningham family descendants,
a practice that James and
Susannah began in 1889, and one which
Lawrence strongly supported for decades.
This gathering is thought to be
the oldest continuous family reunion in
Texas and perhaps the nation. Attendance
at the annual event has numbered
as high as 600.
Looking back on this incredible life
of notable achievements, it is hard to
imagine that there is more any one man
might have accomplished in his life.
And while many people who met
Lawrence would never know of these
great deeds, since Lee was a modest man,
they would all surely know of his kindness
and concern for others -- for Lee
Lawrence had the ability to touch and
make a difference in the lives of everyone
he met. This is perhaps the greatest
tribute to a man who accomplished so
much during his lifetime.
Lawrence is survived by his wife Virginia
Ann Lawrence, three daughters --
Frances, Amy and Elizabeth-- his mother,
Elizabeth O. Lawrence, two grandchildren,
and a brother.
24 HERITAGE -SUMMER 1996
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 14, Number 3, Summer 1996, periodical, Summer 1996; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45405/m1/24/: accessed August 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.