Ambassador Eulogized at Hotel He Restored to Grandeur

CORONADO, California – The man who ”walked with kings, but never lost the common touch,” returned to the Hotel del Coronado for one final event, this time on the shoulders of the people knew him the best.

Eight employees of M. Larry Lawrence carried his casket into the Crown Room of the
internationally known hotel and then down a set of steps to a waiting hearse at a memorial service on Monday.

”I feel so sad,” said bartender Jose Gomez, 50, one of the employees chosen to show their final respects. ”It's an honor, believe me. He was a real important man in the United States of America. He was a tough man to work for, but a very nice man. He understood.”

With that, Gomez hurried back to work.

The service was attended by national and local officials. In a eulogy for Lawrence, Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown described him as a man who ”walked with kings, but never lost the common touch.”

Lawrence, 69, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, died Tuesday of a rare blood disease at his official residence in Bern. He will be buried Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery. President Clinton, a friend of Lawrence, is expected to speak at the funeral, said Richard C. Holbrooke, an assistant secretary of state who eulogized Lawrence.

Clinton sent a letter that was read at Monday's service, calling Lawrence ”a true patriot” for his work as ambassador and his service in the Merchant Marine during World War II. Lawrence was aboard a ship that was torpedoed in the North Atlantic.

Lawrence, a longtime Democratic Party activist, was a big reason Clinton carried California and San Diego in the 1992 election, the president said.

”Of course I am especially grateful for the friendship and support Larry gave me, long before most people felt I had a chance to become president,” Clinton's letter said. ”He was always there in the good times and the tough times.”

The memorial service was attended by 800 mourners, with another 200 watching via video screen in a ballroom.

Many guests wiped away tears as Rabbi Michael Sternfield of the Chicago Sinai Congregation read a letter written by the ambassador's widow, Shelia Davis Lawrence, recounting the last hours of his life as he was brought from a hospital to his official residence in Bern, Switzerland.

”A smile flashes across your face, and your thumbs-up signal to all illustrates your happiness and satisfaction of a final request fulfilled. You lived on your own terms and you are dying on your own terms. You did it your way,” he said.

Brown called Lawrence ”a true renaissance man,” noting his business, political and charitable contributions.

Lawrence was also a complicated man, Brown said.

”He was sometimes gruff, but always caring. He was sometimes opinionated, but always loving. He was sometimes tough, but he was always sensitive.”

Sternfield said Lawrence ”enjoyed being the contrarian. He loved swimming upstream. He loved going against the so-called conventional wisdom. Maybe that's why he loved being a Democrat in this Republican town.”

Lawrence's primary interest was the Hotel del Coronado, a National Historic Landmark which he controlled as chairman of the board. He and fellow investors bought the fading Victorian hotel in 1963 and spent $80 million during the next 25 years to expand it and restore it to its original grandeur.

Brown recalled how proud Lawrence was when he once gave a tour of the hotel.

”It's just incredible,” Brown said. ”Just look around you today. Look around at what you saw walking in. That's Larry Lawrence. That's commitment, that's tenacity, that's courage, that's perseverance. That's fighting the odds. All the things that I remember most about him.”

The American flags atop the hotel's cupolas and main tower remained at half staff Monday.

In addition to his wife, Lawrence is survived by daughters Leslie Caspi of San Diego, Andrea Lawrence of Germany and Stephanie Lawrence of New York; and one son, Robert Lawrence of San Diego.

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