Samuel B. Lawrence, 1921-2011
A Life Lived Large
By Lorrie Kyle Ramey ’70
Whether inspiring a motion picture or seeing his dog capture Westminster Kennel Club’s Best in Show Award, Sam Lawrence led a life that wasn’t just full, but overflowing.
At the turn of the new year, Rollins lost a remarkable patriarch and benefactor. Described as demanding yet devoted (“Sam had high expectations for people, but he also had a loving heart,” said former Rollins president Rita Bornstein ’90HAL ’90H), Samuel B. Lawrence ’95H (P’68,’70) made his mark in every aspect of his rich life.
Lawrence and his mother emigrated from Russia to the United States when he was four years old. His childhood homes spanned the country, from Washington state to New York and Philadelphia. Following service in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II, he was offered the opportunity to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business but chose instead to pursue tobacco farming in Connecticut. His experience prompted his cousin, Mildred Savage, to pen the novel Parrish, which became a Warner Bros. Pictures film. Lawrence was twice elected to the Connecticut state legislature, where he served as House chairman.
In 1959, he and his former wife, Lois Becker Lawrence Odence, moved their young family to Orlando, where he undertook the operation of a group of Budget Rent A Car franchises. At the same time, he shepherded the expansion of Budget Rent A Car of America franchises all around the country. When the national system was sold to TransAmerica Corporation in 1968, Lawrence turned his full focus to the Florida franchises, which he and his partners later sold to TransAmerica. The savvy businessman’s next venture found him returning to the land, but as a real estate developer rather than a farmer.
Lawrence was as successful in his avocations as his vocations. A fervent fisherman and award-winning trapshooter, he was also certified as an American Kennel Club (AKC) multi-breed judge. He and his wife, Marion, owned a number of championship dogs, garnering more than 700 All-Breed Bests in Show. In addition, they collected Western and American Impressionist art, much of which has been exhibited at Rollins’ Cornell Fine Arts Museum, where he served on the Board of Visitors. The Cornell was the fortunate recipient of eight paintings from the Lawrences’ collection, including Ernest Lawson’s A Bend in the River, a gift to the Museum on Lawrence’s 75th birthday.
He was a visionary philanthropist. When an office building and land next to College-owned property in downtown Winter Park was offered at a bargain price in 1993, Lawrence didn’t hesitate to give Rollins the funds necessary to acquire the parcel. As Bornstein recounted, “Sam loved a good deal.” Named the Samuel B. Lawrence Center, the investment continues to produce income for the College, providing resources for Rollins’ educational programs as well as housing the College’s Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership Center.
The Lawrences contributed generously to a variety of Rollins causes over the years, ranging from Harper-Shepherd Field to the Ruth Lawrence duPont Terrace at the Cornell Campus Center. In appreciation for his support, Lawrence was named a C.H.I.E.F. (Champion of Higher Independent Education in Florida) by the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida in 1993. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at Rollins’ commencement in 1995, in recognition of his “lifetime of achievement and…commitment to the noble purposes of education.”
Joseph Kennedy, head of the renowned Massachusetts family, remarked, “The measure of a man’s success in life is not the money he’s made. It’s the kind of family he has raised.” By Kennedy’s estimate, Lawrence finished at the top of his class. His loving family includes a cadre of Rollins alumni: daughters Barbara Lawrence Alfond ’68 (P’92), a past vice chair of the College’s board of trustees, and Ruth Lawrence duPont ’70 (P’95,’97,’98), a past Rollins Parents Committee co-chair; sons-in-law Theodore Alfond ’68 (P’92), a current trustee, and Thomas duPont ’70 (P’95,’97,’98), a past Parents Committee co-chair and Parent Trustee; grandchildren John Alfond ’92, Jessica duPont Thiel ’95, Molly duPont Schaffer ’97, and Sarah duPont Hendriksen ’98, who serves with her husband, Edwin Hendriksen ’96 ’98MBA, on Rollins’ President’s Leadership Council.
On January 5, 2011, members of the Rollins and Central Florida communities gathered in Knowles Memorial Chapel to celebrate Lawrence’s life and legacy. A memorial scholarship fund in his honor will benefit students in the Hamilton Holt School. “Sam’s vision for education is a significant part of our college’s past, present, and future,” said Rollins President Lewis Duncan.
Sam Lawrence would have envisioned nothing less.