When he was thirteen, Seppi Colloredo-Mansfeld persuaded his great-grandfather, John Endicott Lawrence, Sr. to be interviewed for a school term paper on the sweep of his life to that point. The resulting twenty-five page biography is – in my view – a remarkable document. Much of that, to be sure, has to do with the subject, who as you’ll see lived a life with few dull moments. But a significant part of it is due to both the talent and the age of the biographer. Talent, because there is a beautiful range here in the scale of details: he’s included everything from the smallest of anecdotes all the way up to events of world historical importance. Moreover, the rhythm of his subject’s language, his word choice, his sense of humor, or wonder for that matter, come through vividly which is no small trick. And age, because while adults can and do edit what they say to children, omitting the truly grim, or for lack of a better term, “the inappropriate,” they can also drop their guard and open up with children in a way they may not with adults. There’s an emotional directness here that really shines. It makes me feel like I’m sitting by a fireside, one of my relatives has asked a question, and tonight the old man has decided he’s willing to talk…
AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE:
THE STORY OF JOHN ENDICOTT LAWRENCE
My great-grandfather, John Endicott Lawrence, has always been an icon in my life. Granddaddy, as I call him, is my father’s mother’s father. He is someone I love very much, but he is also a symbol. For me he represents tradition, permanence, wisdom, history, duty, integrity, family, and optimism. He lives in a great old house– “The Big House”–on a farm he bought in the thirties. We live in another house on the property just a short distance away. Just about every object in Granddaddy’s house has been handed down through many generations or is a memento from some stage in Granddaddy’s life. Granddaddy has always been the head of our large family. He gives wise advice to anyone who seeks it and is an incredibly enthusiastic supporter of every single member of our family. Granddaddy presides over every holiday and special occasion. He is the authority on how things should be done properly and has an incredible wardrobe that includes things like velvet smoking jackets, English riding breeches, velvet embroidered slippers, and silk waistcoats-and he actually wears them.
People who know John Lawrence say that he is one of the most remarkable people they know. He has had a big impact on the lives of many: his large family, his colleagues in business and in the community. Although he has lived through some difficult periods, he is the most optimistic and happy person I know. One thing that everyone knows about my great? grandfather is that it is a lot of fun to be with him.
I have written this short biography about my great-grandfather because he is such a great man and I wanted to find out more about his life. I am almost fourteen years old-my great-grandfather is ninety-four years old. It is incredible to me that I can hear stories from him about our family and people he has known that go back into the 1800’s. What is most interesting to learn about, though, are his experiences in the 1900’s. He lived through World War I, the Great Depression, and fought in World War II. He was a pioneer in starting businesses in India and the Middle East. He knew President Eisenhower, Adolph Hitler and Margaret Thatcher to name just a few of the leading figures of the 20th Century.
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to interview my great-grandfather. I loved spending the time interviewing him and have compiled a lot of information and stories, many in his own words, about his fascinating life. I chose the title, An Extraordinary Life, because “extraordinary” is a word that Granddaddy uses all the time, because to him, so many things in life are amazing. This is the story of John Endicott Lawrence.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
FAMILY HISTORY: PATRIOTS, MERCHANTS & PHILANTHROPISTS
THE EARLY YEARS
SCHOOL DAYS: GROTON AND HARVARD
ADVENTURES IN GERMANY
ACTIVE DUTY: WORLD WAR II
GIVING BACK: CIVIC INVOLVEMENT
FAMILY HISTORY: PATRIOTS, MERCHANTS & PHILANTHROPISTS
The Lawrence Family was one of the first families to come over from England and settle the New World in 1630. In 1660, they started farming in a town called Groton, which at that time was considered the frontier. The Lawrences had been farming in that town for over a hundred years by the time the Revolutionary War broke out. When the war broke out, the Lawrences fought in the war for independence. Samuel Lawrence was a private and a Minute Man who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. His commanding officer was Colonel William Prescott who is another one of our ancestors.
Colonel William led the legendary charge at Bunker Hill. He and his rebel regiment took control of Bunker Hill in the middle of the night and started building their fort at the top of the hill. The rebel force was poorly outfitted with very little ammunition and bad guns. In the morning, the British realized what the patriots had done. Immediately, the Red Coats took action to get the hill back. When Colonel Prescott saw the British making their charge, he ordered his men not to fire until they could “see the whites of their eyes” so that they wouldn’t waste any of their precious ammunition. The rebel forces held off three British charges until, on the fourth charge, they were forced to retreat. In their final volleys against the British, the Rebels were firing nails, rocks-anything that they could get their hands on. Even though the British eventually pushed the rebels off the hill, The Battle of Bunker Hill was an important milestone in the Revolutionary War. It gave great encouragement to the rebels because it proved that they could fight with great bravery, determination and ingenuity, while inflicting heavy casualties on the British. The Battle of Bunker Hill was an important milestone in the Revolutionary War as well an important piece of Lawrence family history.
After the Revolutionary War, the Lawrences returned to life in the country as farmers in Groton. By the turn of the century, the Lawrence family was thriving and boasted five sons. Amos and Abbott were the two youngest. But the farm wasn’t big enough to divide five ways. Oldest brother Luther was the first member of the family to attended Harvard University– in fact he was one of the first students ever to attend Harvard as the school was only recently established. Younger brother Amos worked in a hardware store in Groton. He decided to try life in the big city and so headed off to Boston to make his fortune with only four dollars in his pocket.
Younger brother Abbott soon followed– with two dollars in his pocket– and joined up with his brother. The brothers became merchants. Amos and Abbott became importers of English-made goods as there was then no textile business in the United States. Their first big success in business was being one of the first merchants to obtain goods from England and bring them back for sale to the United States after the War of 1812. Later, it occurred to them that they could manufacture textiles in this country and were among the first to start the textile manufacturing business in this country. Abbott Lawrence was a key figure in bringing about the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Abbott and Amos were classic American success stories: they started out with very little and ended up with several million dollars– a great deal of money in those days.
Abbott Lawrence is the ancestor from which our line is descended. He went on to serve in Congress as the representative from the Groton countryside. He also had a house in Boston, which is now the Union Club on Park Street. He served for two term’s in Washington and then was appointed ambassador to Great Britain in the early 1850’s. He was also the man for whom Lawrence, Massachusetts was named. He was president of the Pacific Mills which were located in Lawrence. They were the first to harness the water power of the Merrimac River.
Abbott also had an important relationship with Harvard College. He received an honorary degree from Harvard even though he didn’t attend Harvard as an undergraduate. This was because he gave them $100,000 to build The Lawrence Scientific School. Abbott brought Professor Agassiz from Switzerland and paid his salary throughout his life. That was the introduction of the study of science at Harvard. When he died, Abbott left Harvard an additional $50,000. The school was later disbanded and became an endowed professorship.
Abbott had a son named James, who in turn had a son named James, (JEL’s grandfather). James the grandfather built one of the first houses on Islesboro, Maine, called “The Hornbeam” which, to this day, remains a well-loved family vacation spot.
THE EARLY YEARS
John Endicott Lawrence was born at home on October 18, 1910 at 29 Walden Street in Milton, Massachusetts to Marion Peabody Lawrence and James Lawrence. He was the third and last child of Marion and James. The oldest child was his sister Marion, followed by his brother James. In 1914, John’s parents moved to another house in Milton on Brush Hill Road. One of John’s most vivid memories of childhood concerns learning how to ride a bicycle there:
I learned to ride a bicycle when I was five years old but nobody told me how to stop it. There was no coaster brake, there was a hand brake–0r you put your feet up on the front wheel! I was very proud of the fact that I could ride the bicycle. I took it up to the fire house-the next building to where we were living. The firemen were all my great friends. The family always knew where to find me. I’d be up at the firehouse being taken care of by the firemen. There was Joe Manning and Mr. Charlton-so I took my bicycle up and then I rode the bicycle down the hill and unfortunately I didn’t know how to stop it and I ran into the fence around the Unitarian Church and knocked out my tow front teeth. I was carried home by the firemen much to the consternation of my mother. The amusing part about it is I told Jack (John’s oldest son) about it and we were driving through Milton one day and I said, “Jack, I’m going to show you the house where we were all born and where we lived our first years and I’m going to show you the firehouse and I’m going to show you the big hill where I lost control of my bicycle and ran into the fence.” And you know, somebody had razed the hill! It was a fairly level road- very humiliating! Over the years I had built up that hill in my mind-it got steeper and steeper as I got older!
The firemen at the local station clearly made a big impression on little John and to this day, he has incredibly detailed memories of how his friends performed their job:
They were all horse-drawn hook and ladders and the fire engine itself was in a separate house and it was drawn by four white horses. And the horses were trained to come out of their stalls alone and they were trained to stand into position where they would draw the hook and ladder or the steam engine, or whatever. And the harness would fall– it was held above the horses-and somebody would let go the rope and the harness would fall down on the horses and the whole operation would take about two minutes. Extraordinary. And away they went. Quite an operation.
Despite the fact that John was the youngest child, he seemed to have the most accurate memories of the three siblings’ childhood. In fact, sister Marion used to claim that John could remember events that took place even before he was born!
Life for the Lawrences at the turn of the last century was marked by movement with the seasons. As a young boy, John spent the school year at Milton where he attended the lower school of Milton Academy, and summers were spent on an island off the coast of Maine called Islesboro: a house called The Hornbeam.
John has vivid memories of making the long trip to Islesboro for the summer:
We used to go by train in the early days when we were going to Islesboro. There was no bridge at Bath and they would break up the train and it would go over on a ferry over the Kennebec River. The night boat would go from Boston to Rockland. There [were a] series of ferries– a side-wheeler went to North Haven that went all the way through to Northeast Harbor. The Southport and The Westport, the morning boat would wake you up at four a.m., and a wonderful black steward, you could hear him coming because he would rap on the staterooms with a bunch of brass keys. You would have a cup of coffee up on the dock.
You’d arrive in Islesboro around 7:30 in the morning and then have a real breakfast. You’d leave on the boat at six at night and get in at 4 a.m. We had a house that my grandfather built. The families stayed there all summer long-July and August. But some of the fathers would go back and forth to Boston. On Islesboro there were no automobiles, just horses. There were three stables. You would use a crank telephone to hire a carriage. And no electric lights. Just kerosene lamps and candles. The plumbing was all gravity fed. Everybody had a well. The pumps were steam pumps.
John’s mother, Marion, died when John was in college– a tragic time for the family. Marion was a wonderfully energetic and optimistic person who had an enormous influence on John’s life. John’s father James lived well into his nineties and was known for his grace and sense of humor. As a widower in his eighties and nineties, James sometimes lived at the Somerset Club on Beacon Street in Boston. The rooms he lived in were on the fifth floor accessible only by a long, winding staircase. One of the other residents of the club who was in his sixties was heard to complain to James that the stairs were a tiring feature of their life at the club. James was heard to reply, “Those stairs are not so bad if you take them two at a time, as I do.”
Because John and his brother James were so close in age, they shared many childhood experiences. Both boys went from elementary school at Milton Academy on to Groton and then Harvard College. Despite the similarity of their education, their career interests diverged. John’s career was spent in the law, business and civic affairs in Boston, whereas James became a noted architect and patron of the arts in Boston. John has often commented that his artistic brother James “had his feet planted firmly in the clouds.” Although James died in 1995, his descendants still gather with John’s family every year to celebrate Thanksgiving at John’s home in Hamilton. This event, which is probably the most important holiday to our family, begins with a fox hunt, is followed by a lunch for forty to sixty relatives at Granddaddy’s house, and ends with an intensely competitive soccer game: the Lawrences versus our neighbors, the Winthrops.
SCHOOL DAYS: GROTON AND HARVARD
John Lawrence entered Groton School in the fall of 1922 at the age of twelve. It is an overwhelming experience for any young person to move away from home at such a young age. Perhaps it was even more so in the 1920s.
Life at Groton School was very austere by today’s standards. Students lived in cubicles (small rooms with walls that did not go all the way up to the ceiling) and used communal bathrooms. Cold showers were considered to be healthy as-well as a good way to keep clean.. John’s transition from living at home to living at a boarding school was made somewhat easier by the family connection to Groton. John’s brother, James, was a student at the school the family “Homestead” was a few miles down the Nashua River in the same town, and his Uncle Cottie was still the head of the school.
Uncle Cottie, known to the rest of the world as Endicott Peabody, was the founder of Groton School. Endicott Peabody was known as The Rector. Only John’s mother Marion was brave enough to call The Rector, “Uncle Cottie.” To man y, including Franklin Roosevelt, Averill Harriman, Dean Acheson and John Lawrence, The Rector was one of the most influential, imposing and intimidating men they ever knew. The Rector was firm in his beliefs: He believed in traditional Christian values, hard work and sportsmanship. Life at Groton was spent in Chapel, in the classroom and on the athletic field.
Transition into Groton school– especially academically:
I went to Groton in the second form and the first form had already had a year of Latin and I had had no Latin. I had gotten into Groton without any exams because the Rector had known me. I had had no algebra and the boys at Groton had had a whole year of algebra. So, at the end of the fall term, J was at the bottom of the form, the absolute bottom of the form. Sixty was my average. And it was read out in front of the whole school in Chapel. I stayed home for winter term and was tutored and went back and managed to pass exams and had no troubles from then on. But that was a bad start!
John learned useful skills and habits in the dorm. One skill was how to “sleep like a bear” under what some would consider inhospitable conditions. On a bet, John slept next to an open window with only a single sheet as a cover for an entire winter. To stay warm, John claims that you had to remain absolutely still. He also insists that these nights were some of his most restful and peaceful. The amount that was bet remains a mystery.
By John’s senior year, or, as it was called at Groton, his sixth form year, he had become a leader in the community. He was a member of the crew team and the quarterback on the football team. In those days, Groton played a variety of schools. In one game, where the opposing players were not only much bigger than the Groton players, but exhibited quite a bit less sportsmanship—John learned first hand the rigors of the game of football. As quarterback, he was sacked by a large opposing lineman. He remembers lying flat on his back with his opponent sitting on top of him. John smiled at the other player as a sign of good sportsmanship; his opponent responded with a punch to John’s mouth, knocking out his two front teeth. Needless to say, helmets in 1926 were not as protective as those worn today.
John graduated from Groton with a new set of front teeth in the spring of 1927. His experience at Groton prepared him well for life. The educational experience was excellent and he formed many lifelong friendships. He later became an important figure in Groton’s history. Under John’s leadership as the president of the board of trustees, Groton became a coeducational school in the 1970s.
From Groton, John entered Harvard at the end of what is now known the “roaring twenties.” There was a great deal of euphoria after the allied victory in World War I. The stock market kept going up-the country was prosperous. There were also many technological advances that were changing the way people lived. Automobiles were becoming more widespread and Charles Lindbergh had recently made his famous transatlantic flight. It was a great time to be in college.
Life at Harvard was somewhat different than it is now. Students were largely responsible for finding their own accommodations and for organizing their own meals. Students would rent rooms or entire houses in and around Harvard Square. In John’s case he shared a house with a number of his friends. They hired a housekeeper and a valet and joined a number of club s where they could eat their meals.
John rowed on the crew, skied competitively and majored in History. He also made a wide circle of friends. During John’s senior year, he and a group of fourteen friends formed a group they called the Revere Bath and Tennis Club. The club is noteworthy because they met annually for over fifty years after all the members had graduated from college. The club endowed a scholarship that is awarded to a Harvard student every year to help pay for tuition.
One of John’s close friends in college was Franz Colloredo-Mansfeld, an Austrian in the class below him. Franz and John were members of the same club, the Porcellian Club, and rowed together. The summer of 1929 Franz and John traveled through Austria and Hungary together. Of special interest to the author is that years later John’s daughter, Susanna, would marry Franz’s son, Ferdinand. Tragically, Franz was shot down in action as a fighter pilot in the British Royal Air Force during World War II well before the marriage took place.
By the time John left Harvard, the college and the world had changed dramatically. Harvard, under the leade1ßship of its President Eliot, was taking steps to turn it into a truly great university. One change was the creation of the House System which provided on-campus housing for all students and changed the fabric of college life. The world outside Harvard was changing too. The stock market crashed in 1929 and the Great Depression changed everyone’s outlook on the future.
ADVENTURES IN GERMANY
In 1931, not long after graduating from Harvard and after the Stock Market crash, John headed to Germany to study German at the University of Munich and to ski in the Bavarian Alps. John describes that time best:
In the Thirties, after the big crash took place in the market, I went to Germany for a year. Things were pretty bad there. In Germany you could live extremely well-no hardship there (for expatriates). Everybody was on a very reduced basis. Germany was in very bad shape at that time. As a student you could go to the opera for 25 cents. Families took in paying guests to make both ends meet. I took courses at the University of Munich and lived with a fascinating old lady named Frau Baumwegger (?) She was a great Shakespearean actress in Germany and she had a wonderful, big old house. She took in paying guests. She was a character. The other tenants in the house make me a member of the Stamtish Rathskeller. Absolutely magnificent wine cellar. They educated me in the great Rhine wines..! had a marvelous time in Germany!
After a year in Germany, John returned to Cambridge to attend law school at Harvard. More school meant more summers to travel.
After my first year in law school I worked in legal aid in Boston and then I went abroad. I went over and stayed with Grenny Ebbot who was American Ambassador to Holland and he had been Franklin Roosevelt’s law partner in New York… they had a marvelous place called Klingendahl? Outside The Hague which was the second time I’d been to Holland because I’d gone over in 1929 to watch my brother row in the Olympics. We had a wonderful time.
The following summer of 1934, John returned to Germany to work in the “baumwolle” business in Bremen. On this trip, he met Adolf Hitler.
During the summer of 1934, the Nazi party was on the rise and was in the process of taking over the government. Hitler had become the Chancellor. The government was unstable and the country had been in an economic depression for years. Field Marshall Hindenburg had been the leader of the German Army during the First World War and was held in high regard by the Germans. He was the last President of the Republic when he died. His death in 1934 was a major event in Germany and his absence from the government provided Hitler with the opportunity to take complete control.
John wanted to attend the funeral and had offered to provide an account to the Boston Globe. Getting a press pass was no easy matter for such an important event. John appealed to Putzi Hafenstagl, a member of a well-known Munich family. Putzi himself was a graduate of Harvard College. Putzi had become one of Hitler’s senior press officers. Putzi told John he would give him a press pass on one condition: Putzi wanted John to give a radio broadcast in Germany reporting that Putzi had been well received and was considered to be a big success at his Harvard 25th reunion. John gave the broadcast and got the press pass.
With the press pass, John traveled with the major figures of the news media from Munich to Berlin for the funeral service. While on the train John and the few other members of the US press corps were summoned to come sit with Hitler for part of the trip. That discussion with one of history’s most evil figures made a big impression on John– as did Putzi Hafenstagl.
John’s adventures in Europe in the early thirties include trips to watch his brother James row in the Olympic, trips to Ireland, Denmark and Italy.
On these trips he was granted a private audience with the Pope; came to the aid of the Queen of the Belgians whose car had broken down along a deserted road; caroused with Austrian nobility in Budapest. These experiences probably sparked the interest to pursue a career in international business.
To this day, John believes adamantly in the importance of governments working to build an international community.
Following his traveling adventures, John married Anne Tuckerman on August 6, 1938 in Islesboro, Maine (both families had houses there). In 1940 they had daughter Susanna, followed by John “Jack” Jr., and son David some years later. They settled down to a life in rural Hamilton, Massachusetts because the Tuckerman’s had lived there, and because many of John and Annie’s friends lived there as well. Little did they know that their happy family life would soon be torn apart.
ACTIVE DUTY: WORLD WAR II
John remembers with great detail exactly what he was doing on December 7th, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese and how he then enlisted:
I can remember the whole thing very well. It was Sunday afternoon and I was out working. We were living in the house down by the church (Christ Church in Hamilton). Annie was listening to the philharmonic on the radio and she came to the door and she called to me and she said, “The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor.” I remember it so vividly. I had already signed up for the draft but I would probably not have been drafted because we had two children at that point and I was over thirty. But we all went and we were all trying to find a service that would take us. We had already been to Camp Devens. The Selective Service Act had been passed in Washington for the draft. And as a publicity move, as a way to get the legislation through, the government opened up the three camps that had been used to train officers for the first world war and they opened up Fort Mead in Pennsylvania, they opened Platsford-that was the biggest training camp for officers in the First World War and they opened up Fort Devens. And we all went. If you lived in New York you went to Platsford [sic. Plattsburgh?—LSL]. If you live in Philadelphia, you went to Fort Mead and you went to Devens from here. Everybody under forty. I went to Devens. James went to Devens. Then we all went into the State Guard, that old armory on Arlington Street. First Call Cadets. The army had no use for us. The navy developed a scheme for overage people called the AVS Program. They developed it at Quonset. Most of us ended up at Quonset. Then the army later on changed their policy -took older people. But the navy beat the army to the punch so most of us ended up in the navy. We went through Quonset and then some of us were lucky enough to go on into the naval air intelligence school-another couple months of training.
After completing his training in the air intelligence school, John was given his first assignment:
I had a chance to put down on paper where I thought I would be less of a nuisance than elsewhere and I put down that I could speak French and I could speak German and I’d traveled in Europe over the years and as a result, I was sent to the South Pacific! I’d never even heard of the Solomon Islands! We were attached to the first marines. We ended up in Guadalcanal so that was an illuminating experience to say the least. Guadalcanal was the (site) of the initial landings in the Pacific made by the marines. My assignment was the dive bombers– the SPDs. My second session, September to December, was the dive bombers. Then I was assigned to the fighters until May and then I was told to go down to New Zealand and make a round of the bases and tell them about the coast watches. May of ’43. And so while I was down there flying around to the different bases telling the pilots about the Pacific Coast watches and the general conditions up there, I got word that (the person) who had been in charge of the whole operation had been called back to Washington and I was appointed to take his place. Part of my new assignment was to be.in contact with Admiral Halsey. We went up in ’44 to take the third fleet. I was lucky enough to be one of those taken up. I was a lieutenant commander. When I got the job of running the air intelligence in the South Pacific, I got a promotion to lieutenant commander. I retained that spot promotion to be on Halsey’s staff. Halsey had about fourteen hundred ships in the Third Fleet. They consisted of tankers and striking force that had all the carriers. Each group had four carriers, two or three new class battle ships about seven cruisers and about fourteen destroyers. So you multiply all that by four and you have the striking force. That was called the Third Fleet. And that was supported by the so-called ships of the train which were the tankers and the supply ships. They would come about every third or fourth day. The other days you’d be attacking the Japs all the way from the northernmost island of Japan all the way down to the Solomon’s. It was a big, big range. Extraordinary operation. Halsey was a tremendous leader. Wonderful man.
John was in the Pacific when the atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. In his view, the bombs were dropped unnecessarily:
I was in charge of the navy intelligence officers who were on the carrier. There was an air intelligence officer in each squadron on the carriers so there were 40 or 50 air intelligence officers…….We were told to avoid certain areas-Nagasaki, Hiroshima-we were told to leave those when we knew that the B-29s were operating on a sight path…we thought that the reason that we should leave it alone was that it was B-29 territory. They were not under our command, but we didn’t know that the bomb was going to be dropped. I think Halsey knew and I was privy to all the broken code. But I didn’t’ know. If you want something controversial, we didn’t think that it was necessary to drop those bombs. We had just completed a run from Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan all the way up to Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. We had made over to Honshu and we were running out of targets. We had worked all the plans for the landings on Kyushu. We thought that Kyushu should be bypassed. We had bypassed islands on the way up the empire. Kyushu was supposed to be where our initial landings were to be made on the homeland of Japan. And it was an empty camp just before the bomb was dropped. We had made the runs all along the coast of Japan all the way to Hokkaido and we found a lot of planes on the ground, all of which we’d destroyed. The plains leading up to Tokyo, on the central island of Honshu, were wide open. One night, we dispatched destroyers to go in and bombard the installations. The next night, we dispatched the cruisers to go in. And even the battleships went in the following day and the place was wide open. We felt that the landings could have easily been made on Honshu on the plains of Tokyo. Tokyo was wide open. The B-29s had just burned out the guts of Tokyo. It was our basic opinion that Kyushu could be eliminated. Japan was on its knees. A very small proportion of the planes were able to fly because they had no gas. We’d already been in the South China Sea, we’d sunk an enormous convoy on the way to Japan itself. And they didn’t have the oil necessary to supply their air force. But the atomic operation was so far ahead they couldn’t stop it. A bit of a parallel there with Iraq.
During the war, John obviously had very little time to have fun. But, he did find time to relax occasionally:
The admiral was a great man for exercise and we had a deck tennis court laid out on the quarter deck by the number one turret. We had a set game of deck tennis which the admiral would play with Piggy Weeks, who was the fleet doctor, and he’d play with Bill Reilly, who was the marine general on the staff, and myself. One day–this is a rather amusing story–it started to rain and we got underneath the number one turret out of the rain because it was a shower, and when the shower was over, the chief of staff, Admiral Carney, was up on the flag bridge looking down watching the game and he was a very humorous fellow, very bright, and he sent word down to the ship’s communication to have the sweepers (come up on deck and mop up the rain water). “Man your brooms!” sounded over the loud speaker and the first time the admiral answered the call…the admiral had us sweeping the rain off the deck and at that point a group of seamen came up on deck and tried to take the broom away from the admiral…the admiral was just in a pair of shorts…stripped to the waist…and he wouldn’t let the broom go and he said, “Go get your own broom!” That’s why people loved Halsey.
ADVENTURES IN BUSINESS
After attending law school, John became an attorney in Boston. As a lawyer, he practiced for several years with the firm of Goodwin, Proctor and Hoar. But then, wanting to join the family business, John moved over to cotton. Then, war broke out. When John returned from the war, the cotton business had changed dramatically, so he went back to practicing law. But then,
Things went to pieces for my father’ firm. One of his partners was killed riding a point-to-point (a kind of horse riding event), and another partner had a nervous breakdown over a mess in Canada– the shipping business in Canada…a subsidy… that’s when I left the law and went over to join him. Then the cotton business pretty well collapsed. Business all moved south, manufacturing all moved south. Whereas three or four million bales of cotton were bought from all over the world for the mills in New England, bought within 100 yards of the office– that collapsed.
Given the tough economic times for the New England cotton industry, John faced strong temptation to leave the family business. After the war, John had worked on President Eisenhower’s campaign. After his election, Eisenhower offered John the position of Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air.
I didn’t take it because my wife Anne had started on her Parkinson’s disease. Also, I didn’t feel like leaving a sinking ship (the family business) at that point. But I wanted very much to get into something that had a future. And I was also very much interested in doing something on an international basis. The empires– French, British, German– were all breaking up and these nations in the Middle East and so on were starting to manufacture on their own. I persuaded some of my friends– Fred Winthrop, Tim Clark, and so on to invest in a thing we started called the Middle East Corporation. The idea was to develop natural resources which had previously been shipped to another country and manufactured there, had the value added there and were sold in the exchange. The idea was to bring the manufacturing know-how to the country of origin. So we started off with a canoeing and freezing plant for vegetables in Egypt and we built a plant outside of Alexandria. This was in 1952. We had already bought cotton in Egypt and India and Pakistan so we had people that we’d been dealing with. We raised a couple hundred thousand dollars here and got started off.
John has many amusing and interesting stories to tell about doing business overseas. One of the funniest is about a joint venture he and his partners had with the Somali government:
We were hired by the Somali government to build a freezing plant at the entrance to the Red Sea to process tuna. This was in Somalia right opposite the home p01-t of the Southeast Asian fleet of the British. Strategically, it was a very important spot. The idea was to teach the Somalis how to fish for tuna. We built a processing plant in a little town right on the waterfront to take all the production from the fishing and export it and ear╡ foreign exchange for the Somali government which sorely needed the foreign exchange. Eventually, with a great deal of difficulty, we built this place in conjunction with the Quincy? Coast Storage Company. The time came to open it. To really get going, we bought a tuna fishing boat over from Mexico. We flew out for the ceremony. I chartered a plane and we flew with the prime minister of Somalia and his finance minister and several other people. And the great masterstroke was going to be the launching of the Mexican tuna fishing boat which had come over on a freighter and had been deck-loaded on the freighter. Well, everything went along pretty well. We got all the Somalis onto the deck of the ship and the big moment was going to be having the Somali partners press a button and electronically, the deck-loaded fishing boat was going to go over the side and this was going to be a great symbol of Somali-American relations and cooperation. Well, everything worked out very nicely until the boat went over the side and unfortunately, somebody had forgotten to close the valves on the fishing boat which had been opened for the passage on the deck loaded boat. In rough weather the water would run right through the hull you see… Nobody closed those sea valves and as a result, when the boat hit the water, it kept right on going and it sank! And here was the great symbol of Somali-American cooperation and it went into the water and kept right on going! (Laughing…..) It was one of life’s darkest moments! And the tuna which had been prolific, to say the least– I had already made a reconnaissance and you could actually see the tuna. Unfortunately, not only did the fishing boat go to the bottom, also all the tuna disappeared because the water temperature changed and when the water temperature changed, the plankton on which the tuna fed, the plankton disappeared, so the tuna went. (Laughing.) So there’s a building, an enormous facility was built with all the freezing equipment in it… that was one of life’s darkest moments!
John had several small-world experiences in his business dealings. The following stories are two of his favorites:
We wanted to fish for shrimp in the Persian Gulf and I was told that it had to be cleared at that point– this was in the 1960’s– I was told that I had to clear it with the British presence. The British was the dominant force in the Persian Gulf at that time. That was in the time of the Shah. And so I said (to my foreign business partners),”Who and where is the British presence at the moment?” And they said, “Well, it is a man called Admiral Lefitu? And he is on the flagship England?” And I said to myself, “Well, my god!” Mike Lefitu had been the liaison officer to Admiral Halsey and was a very good friend of mine. In fact, at the end of the war, he had spent Christmas with Annie and myself… on his way back to England and I had subsequently seen him in London. So I said, “Don’t tell Admiral Lefitu who is coming.” So the word got out that this American businessman was coming out to see him. I went over to board the ship and the royal marines–by that time it was peace time, so all the flourishes and all the formality had returned–and I was ushered to the admiral’s cabin. Mike Lefitu was writing something and at first didn’t see me coming in the door. Suddenly he looked up and all the royal marines were around and all was formality and everything was very kosher, so to speak, and Lefitu absolutely blew his top. ”What are you doing here?” he said. “I’m the American businessman!” I answered. He absolutely exploded and immediately gave orders for his jeep to be made available and so on…..we went out and had a boy’s lunch. One of those extraordinary experiences!
I’ll tell you one more story– has to do with Myopia. In 1968, during the height of the resistance to the Vietnam War– Davy was out there and it happened to be the year that Red Jones took over as the chief executive officer of the General Electric Company. It was also the year that it was my turn to represent the board at the annual meeting. We had a custom whereby one director would attend the annual meeting and, as I say, represent the board. And it was my year. The meeting was going to be in the Grand Palace Hotel in Denver. And it was the height of the opposition of the war and we were told that the feeling was going to be so difficult at the meeting that we couldn’t even get a speaker to give the invocation at the opening of the meeting. There were going to be people right on the sidewalks and lots of trouble. We arrived in Denver and the GE people met the plane. They said they found a person to give the invocation. It was a person from St. Regis College. St. Regis College was the biggest Jesuit institution in that part of the west and it was a great coup. But this individual insisted on seeing me before he would agree to do it. “God,” I said, “why does he want to see me?” They said, “We don’t have any idea, except that he’s seen the annual report, he’s seen the proxy statement and he’s made this a condition that he sees you, Mr. Lawrence, before he does it.” And I said, “Oh my god.” The lobby of Grand Palace Hotel was full of people. So I said, “Why don’t we have breakfast together tomorrow morning?” The GE people replied, “Oh no, Mr. Lawrence, he’s been waiting for you since 3:00 this afternoon. And he insists on seeing you.” I said, ‘Well alright, what kind of a question is he going to ask me? Will it be of a theological basis?” I was pretty desperate. Then I said, “Alright, bring him on. We’ll try to handle the situation.” The GE people went across the lobby and pretty soon this individual starts across to where I was standing. He had a smile on his face. And I thought, what the hell’s this all about? He put his hand out and said, “Mr. Lawrence, I’m so glad to see you again.” And I said to myself, I’ve never seen this fellow before in my life. And he said, ”You don’t remember me and there’s no reason why you should, but I used to caddy for you at Myopia!” This fellow had gone to Boston College. He had gone through the training program in Rome for the Jesuits ha a business degree and BMA from the University of Chicago and was rector of St. Regis College. And all he wanted to talk to me about was what was happening at Myopia! (Laughing.) And what had happened to the third hole, and so forth, and what had happened to Ted Weekes and George Batchelder, all these old boys. One of the most extraordinary things that ever happened!
During the years that most people retire, John started new businesses and served on corporate boar ds. John served on the board of the Mass General Hospital for over fifty years. For many of those years he served as the board’s chairman. During the years that John was involved, the hospital grew from being one of the best hospitals in Boston to being one of the best hospitals in the world. John’s contributions to the hospital were commemorated when a new building was constructed at the entrance to the hospital and was named Lawrence House. In addition, the hospital commissioned a portrait of John which now hangs in the lobby of Lawrence House. In addition to his work for the hospital, John also continued to travel the world on business for the hospital and the government.
In later life, John continued to pursue his interest in India. As a result of his experience in the cotton business, John had formed many ties with India and some of its leaders. These ties led to his leading an important foundation which, among other good works, established a hospital in Bombay. The Mass General Hospital became heavily involved in this project by providing staff and advice to help launch the hospital.
In his personal life, John endured trying times as his wife Annie suffered for many years with Parkinson’s disease. Her struggle ended with her death in 1980. Some years later, John married Janet Barnes, an old friend, who had also lost a spouse. John and Janet lived happily together in Hamilton, surrounded by their sizeable combined families, until her death in 1999.
Shortly after Janet’s death, John faced another blow when his leg had to amputated due to a blocked artery. He didn’t let this get him down for long. He exercised every day by hoisting himself up and down on the arms of his library chair. Eventually, he could lift his whole body out off t he chair, with just his arms on the armrests. When you have a limb amputated, you lose your driver’s license unless you can pass a new test. John, at almost ninety, was determined to get his back. The police officer who gave him his test did not like the idea of giving such an elderly person a license. But Granddaddy performed every test perfectly and got his license back. These days, he hires a driver to take him places, but he still drives his car around the farm.
John has eight grandchildren and so far, fourteen great-grandchildren. He is a great reader of books and newspapers and always knows exactly what is going on in the world. He is optimistic and interested in everything. While he loves to talk about the past, he is always looking to the future. Despite all the troubles in the world, Granddaddy thinks that there are great things ahead for the world. I think that is why he seems so young and is so much fun to be with.
About the Author
Franz “Seppi” Colloredo-Mansfeld is a thirteen-year-old seventh grader at Shore Country Day School in Beverly, Massachusetts. He lives in Hamilton, Massachusetts, on a farm that his great? grandfather purchased in the 1940’s. Great-grandson and Great-grandfather live in separate houses on the same property and see each other often. Like his great-grandfather, Seppi loves to ski, sail, golf, horseback ride, read and travel. Seppi lives with his parents, Franz and Anne, two younger brothers, Johann and Simon, and a younger sister Annie.