James Lawrence ‘01, “Mr. Grand”

These are just some notes I’ve put together—perhaps someday they will be an essay. But in the meantime, he is owed a place here…


No man can be summed up in a few lines. With that in mind, a few biographical facts, and some random recollections of friends follow.

President of his class at Harvard for four years, Harvard varsity football in 1899 and 1900, varsity crew 1899 and 1901.

Upon leaving college, he entered the office of George Mixter, banker and note broker, at 28 State Street, Boston.”–R. M. Lawrence, The Descendants of Major Samuel Lawrence.

Became a cotton merchant, first with George H. McFadden, then as a Boston partner of McFadden-Sands, and from 1931 on, senior partner of James Lawrence and Co.–Obituary, unknown newspaper, March, 1969.

Chief Marshall of his 25th Reunion at Harvard.

Active as director and trustee of many charitable, civic, and business enterprises, including Groton School, the Boston Safe Deposit & Trust Co., and the Boston Lying-In Hospital.–Obituary, unknown newspaper, March, 1969.

Called “Mr. Grand” by one of his grandchildren and the name stuck.

(Note, the Roman numeral designations for all subsequent James Lawrences stem from him, and are based on the number of James Lawrences alive in 1970-1971. My brother James, born in ’70, who goes by “IV”, is actually the sixth overall. His son, James, who goes by “Jack,” is the seventh.)

Mr. Grand was tough. In his youth, he used to sleep in the unheated Groton rooms, through the winter, with only a sheet over him. He later said that if you didn’t move a muscle, the air over your body would form almost a protective, insulating layer between your body and the cold. Frequently, he would leave the window open, while water in a drinking glass froze, and snow blew in. This is not a tall tale. Many have corroborated it.

After his death, his son, James Lawrence, Jr. (1907-1995), my grandfather, wrote a brief memorial for him, and had it printed with a red cover. It is a loving tribute. If you find it, sit down for a good read on this fabulous man.  A sample follows:



“James Lawrence” by Maria Di Carpenetto Lawrence


[Referring to the bust above]…the sculpture does not reveal that he was in all other respects, as well, the handsomest of men. Six feet three inches in his prime (he used to mutter with a twinkle in his eye that somewhere along the way he had lost an inch or two) he never ceased to hold himself like a young oak. Sitting in the library at Lower Faulkner with him night after night, I would steal a glance towards him occasionally to note  admiringly how straight he sat. Kipling could well have had him in mind when he spoke of [a] man’s being ‘like a lance at rest.’ Father was… always… not just some of the time.

–James Lawrence, Jr.




He was a mentor, and a source of strength, for those around him. His son goes on to speak in that sketch of many in Boston making it a regular practice to drop in on him at work and talk with ‘The President of ’01.’

When his daughter-in-law Martina died, he became a constant fixture in his grandson Robert’s life, almost an anchor. Many in later generations still talk of his near-religious attendance at Robert’s football games, and their walks together.

Lee Albright told me that for perhaps thirty years he went, one day a week, to talk with and counsel prisoners in one of the state penitentiaries. She discovered this by accident, and when she mentioned it to him, he said he did not want this known, and asked that it be kept private.

I remember, when I was about three, bumping into a pair of knees in black trousers in the green-marbled great hall of his son’s house. I started to look up, and had to keep on looking for some time to see his smiling face. I do not remember, but enjoy being told, about how he and I used to sit out on the porch of the house at Dark Harbor, and talk while the sun set.

Who do we ever really come to know? When people are gone, what is it that remains?


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