Through 38 years with the Jackson County school district, George Richard Lawrence stayed “with the kids” all the way, as a teacher or principal or both at the same time. Although he retired as principal at Sneads Elementary School in 1988, he remains more active than many 89-year-olds—not only does he work around his own home and property on Blue Springs Road, he maintains 11 mobile homes for the owner. In celebration of his upcoming 90th birthday this Friday, Aug. 15, he agreed to have an interview Tuesday morning with the Jackson County TIMES.
Mr. Lawrence’s philosophy in education kept him dedicated to the students. Through the decades, he eventually taught or served in the principal’s office at nearly every school in Jackson County. He says he never wished to serve at the county office or run for political office. “I put the kids first,” he explained,” and there is a special reward to teaching and administration at the school level. My students still visit me today and talk about the influence I had in their lives.” His also insisted upon a cooperative approach with teachers. “For the students, education is the key that unlocks all the doors and for the teachers, I always told them that I was not their boss but their helper.” On teaching itself: “I used a practical, applied approach to teaching mathematics, for example; We often built our own gym equipment, so we took measurements and I used that in instruction. I asked the students being raised on farms to measure their farm equipment.”
Lawrence’s service to Jackson County took many forms: When he served during the 1950s at the former Dellwood school, located between Grand Ridge and Greenwood, he helped eliminate a health crisis—a continuing problem with “ground itch” and hookworms. “I asked the students if they had indoor plumbing and many said no,” he said. “We found that they were getting the infections from worms in the fecal matter that had become mixed in the soil around their homes. We took care of those problems, as well as lice infestations, after we were able to ascertain their causes.” Indeed, Mr. Lawrence comes from another era in the history of America. He endured all the trials and tribulations of the integration process with an open mind and a spirit of cooperation, and, being the disciplinarian that he is, practiced freely the now forbidden measure of corporal punishment (paddling). After John Dekle Milton put him to work in Dellwood in 1950, his position was principal but his duties involved much more. “I taught the seventh and eighth grades, I coached the girl’s softball and boys basketball teams and if a bus driver didn’t come in that day, I drove a bus. If the janitor couldn’t take care of everything, I did that too.” His salary for the first year, 1950-1951, was $2,240 and the teacher’s allocation for expenses was $25—for the year. His ending annual salary in 1988 was just $15,000.
George was born in the Alliance Community, off S.R. 71 on the Calhoun County line, in 1924 to Charles A. and Jessie Jackson Lawrence. His grandfather Richard Carey Lawrence, who was born in 1818, was in the Marianna Homeguard Unit and wounded at the Battle of Marianna in 1864. Coming from very humble beginnings, George and a friend once walked 15 miles from Alliance to Marianna just to see a high school football game. He went to work at a shipyard in Panama City before being drafted during World War II and serving two and one-half years as a Marine. With his frame of just 5 foot, 6 inches and 135 pounds, he stayed stateside for the remainder of the war; the Marines utilized his experience in the shipyards and that “might have saved my life,” he said. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” he says. “The Corps taught the mental and physical discipline that served me all my life.”
In August 1946 (Mr. Lawrence’s memory is as sharp as ever), George entered college at the “Tallahassee Branch –University of Florida” while FSU was in the beginning stages. He got his BS degree in education in 1950 from FSU and returned there later to get his master’s degree in administration (1953). He never considered living elsewhere; he wanted to live and work in Jackson County because “that was home.” After Dellwood, he went to “Cypress Junior High” school (1951 to 1954), then Magnolia Junior High School, other schools too numerous to mention, and later served as principal at Campbellton and Greenwood. He served as principal at Sneads Elementary School from 1975 to 1988; Tim Chase was superintendent when he retired.
George plans to celebrate his birthday quietly at the home of his daughter Kay (Phillip) Tyler in Marianna. As to his long life, he attributes “one, be true to yourself; two, eat a variety of food; three, let your spiritual life be not only known but shared with others as well; and four, keep your body regular.” A lay speaker with the Methodist church, he often explains that “God is love. I feel that my life has been blessed and I want to be a blessing to others. The Spirit of the Lord is with you if you allow it!”
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