I decided to take a break this week from the usual pointed cynicism found on this blog to get a little personal and sentimental.
My grandfather, Donald A. Lawrie, died Tuesday night. While we never wish the death of a loved one, Grandpa Don led a long, accomplished life. He was active and relatively pain-free until only a few days before his death and, after an evening of lemon pudding, reading the newspaper, and sipping a glass of gin, he died in his sleep. It was as good of a life and as peaceful of a death as anyone could hope for.
Grandpa Don was born in Sacramento where, thanks to the success of the family ice cream business, he and his two brothers grew up in relative comfort during the Depression. He served in the Philippines toward the end of World War Two and enrolled in Sacramento City College and then UC Berkeley following his return to California. After college, where he majored in business, he married my grandmother and fellow Golden Bear, Martha Harriet Goulding, in 1950. They’ve been husband and wife ever since.
In the 1950s and 1960s he worked for the California Division of Highways. He was instrumental in securing the right of way for state and federal highways throughout California, including the routing of Interstate 80 through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Later, he worked for the Santa Clara Valley Water District and continued consulting on municipal right of way issues after retirement. He and Grandma Harriet raised two daughters and, thanks to a family which remained in the Bay Area, closely helped raise four grandchildren.
Other than the annual trip to the family cabin in South Lake Tahoe, they vacationed very little while raising their children, but a comfortable retirement and exceptional health allowed my grandparents to travel extensively throughout the world in their later years. Civic and community-minded, Grandma and Grandpa were patrons of seemingly every arts organization in San Jose, where they lived for the last forty-odd years before moving to Dublin last year. They were also dedicated Berkeley alumni, jointly recognized by the California Alumni Assoication with an Excellence in Service award in 2004. Their warmth and hospitality created friendships that endured for decades and spanned three continents.
(My Grandpa Don also taught me one of my more useful skills: how to mix an exceptional Manhattan cocktail.)
But most importantly, he was the kindest, gentlest, most generous grandfather I could ever hope for. He represented the best of America and California in the 1950s and 1960s, when commitment to building this new, modern society pervaded and the spirit of self-sacrifice and dedication to a common good was not a noble goal but a matter of course. For all of the social troubles and starry-eyed naivete of early Postwar America, it cannot be denied that we were a nation that knew how to build. We built highways because we needed highways. We built universities because we needed universities. We served our alma mater and our communities because our alma mater and communities served us. That is a sentiment disappearing more and more each year in favor of a new selfishness disguised as individualism. My personal sadness over the death of the man I loved, respected and looked up to is coupled with a sadness at the realization that soon America will never see a generation of men like him again.
Grandpa Don exemplified the California Dream. He helped build California and California rewarded him for his service in an era when citizens and government still kept promises to each other. I am extraordinarily happy that I was able to grow into someone he could be proud of and have a renewed commitment to living my life by his example.
Grandpa Don, I’m overjoyed for the life you lived and I miss you dearly. I love you.