Francis Lee (F. Lee) Lawrence, lawyer, historian, and preservationist, son of Elizabeth (Oberthier) and W. (William) Dewey Lawrence, was born in Paris, Texas, on May 21, 1926. He was educated in Tyler public schools and then attended Tyler Junior College before serving in the United States Navy for two years during World War II. He was stationed in Orange, Texas, and was discharged as a yeoman third class. Following the war, he attended Texas Christian University and eventually graduated from Southern Methodist University School of Law in 1950 and began practicing law in Tyler. In 1951 he, his father, and brother, William D. Lawrence, Jr., established the law firm of Lawrence and Lawrence in that city. He was of counsel to the firm of Lawrence, McNally & Cooper, L.L.P. from 1992 to 1996.
Lawrence was active in numerous organizations associated with his profession. While at Southern Methodist University, he served as president of both Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity and The Barristers, an honorary scholastic fraternity. He was a member of the Smith County Bar Association (serving a term as its president) and the State Bar of Texas. He was a life fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation and a member of the Texas Association of Bank Counsel and State Bar Committee on Bankruptcy and Reorganization.
Lawrence served on the State Democratic Executive Committee from 1958 to 1960. He was a member of the Fifth Street Presbyterian Church in Tyler. Lawrence was affiliated with numerous civic, business, cultural, and educational institutions. He served on the board of directors of the Middle Sabine River Navigation District; Tyler Bank & Trust Company; Tyler Savings & Loan; Invest-Tex, Inc.; People’s Life Insurance Company; Falcon Seaboard, Inc.; NCNB National Bank, Tyler; East Texas Historical Association; and the Tyler-Smith County Library Foundation. He served on the board of trustees of Texas Christian University; was president of the Texas Rose Festival Association and the YMCA of Tyler; chairman of the Carnegie Public Library, Tyler; and vice president of the Tyler Chamber of Commerce. He was a member of the American Quarter Horse Association, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and the Philosophical Society of Texas. As a Mason, Lawrence held memberships in St. John’s Lodge, No. 53 A.F. & A.M.; Tyler, Chapter No. 24, R.A.M.; Geo. M. Patrick Council No. 13, R & S. M.; Ascension Commandery No. 25, K.T.; 32 degree Scottish Rite, Waco Consistory; and Sharon Temple A.A.O.N.M.S.
In addition to his professional endeavors, Lawrence had a lifelong passion for Texas history and served on numerous boards and commissions. In 1959 Governor Price Daniel appointed him to the Texas State Historical Survey Committee (later named the Texas Historical Commission), and he served that state agency for four years. During his tenure, he collaborated with John Ben Shepperd and Dr. Rupert N. Richardson in originating the State Historical Marker Program. He and Dr. Robert Glover wrote the application for the state’s first marker which was erected at Camp Ford near Tyler. During this period, Lawrence helped establish historical societies in Shelby, San Augustine, Rusk, and Gregg counties. He served on the Texas Civil War Centennial Commission from 1960 to 1965. He served as president of numerous historical organizations including the Texas State Historical Association, Texas Historical Foundation, Smith County Historical Society (founding member), and East Texas Historical Association (founding member). In 1995 he was appointed to the Texas Historical Commission.
As a historian, Lawrence wrote or cowrote numerous articles for historical and professional publications, including submissions to the Chronicles of Smith County and Texas Bar Journal. He also authored several books—Camp Ford, CSA: The Story of Union Prisoners in Texas (coauthored with Dr. Robert W. Glover, 1964), Cunningham Family Centennial Reunion, 1889–1989 (1989), and Texas War Horses (1995). He was copublisher of Tyler and Smith County, Texas: An Historical Survey (1976), a project of the Tyler and Smith County Bicentennial Committee.
Among his favorite accomplishments was his acquisition in 1985 of Mountain Creek Ranch and the pioneer homestead of his great-great grandfather James Cunningham in Comanche County, Texas. With the assistance of architect Raiford Stripling, the family’s home was restored to its 1870s appearance. The restoration was awarded the John Ben Shepperd, Jr. Award for historic preservation by the Texas Historical Foundation. The homestead is a recorded Texas Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Cunningham descendants hold their annual reunion every year not far from the homestead in Newburg. The reunion, believed to be the oldest continuous family reunion in Texas, celebrated its centennial in 1989, in recognition of which the Texas Historical Commission placed a marker on the Cunningham family reunion grounds.
For his dedicated service to the cause of history and historic preservation, Lawrence received numerous honors and awards. They included the Award for Meritorious Service in Historical Preservation (State of Texas, 1963), Ralph W. Steen Award (East Texas Historical Association, 1978), honorary admission to Phi Beta Kappa (1978), Mary Moody Northen Award (Texas Historical Foundation, 1994), Ruth Lester Award (Texas Historical Commission, 1995), Preservation Award (Historic Tyler, Inc. 1995), and the Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation, which was presented in June 1996, a month before his death.
Lawrence married Virginia Ann Lewis on August 28, 1954. They had three daughters; Frances Ann Lawrence, Amy Jane Lawrence Walton, and Mary Elizabeth Lawrence Cannan Berry. He died of cancer in Tyler on July 10, 1996, and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.