A Tribute to Robert G. Lawrence

The following is excerpted from a tribute to Robert (Bob) G. Lawrence spoken by Richard Plant at the Association for Canadian Theatre Research (now CATR) conference in May 1995. The tribute later appeared in the association newsletter (19.2).

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Before helping to found the Association, and beginning his own scholarly work in Canadian theatre, Bob was already a well-known Restoration scholar and teacher of Canadian literature, always deeply concerned about the development of the discipline and the welfare of his students. If I might cite an example: years ago, his was a strong voice encouraging Alice Munro, at that point his student, in launching her writing career.

From the Association’s founding, Bob brought to us his enormous generosity of spirit. He worked tirelessly, serving on the Executive and in other capacities, always a model of patience, imperturbability and grace amid whatever chaos and fractious debate might be going on. And sometimes those early years were fractious indeed, especially needing Bob’s calming presence.

There were many sides to Bob. His passion for theatre, history, and literature was matched by his passionate joy for travel, for new experiences, and most of all, antique cars. He was likely the only professor in a Canadian university who had a world-famous Bentley touring automobile in his garage, yet drove a Model A Ford as his daily transportation. He used to assure me that when he and Joan travelled to England, India, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, in fact, throughout the world, he was doing “research.” It is true that in recent years he has been preparing revised versions of his Everyman play editions, and that just before he retired, indeed a major reason he took an early retirement, he focused his research on tracing the British performers who toured Canada, Australia and abroad. This has been a major project, and I note with disappointment that although he developed a mammoth body of information on these performers, he has died before being able to present the bulk of his discoveries.

But there is something more than coincidence in the fact that often where his research led him and Joan, there was an antique car rally or a rare automobile, or a steam engine or a beautiful garden to see–Bob loved gardens too. One of our last correspondences was about a character in Alice Munro’s new book who owned a Stanley Steamer. I won’t trouble you with the details of that rare southern Ontario auto – suffice it to say that Bob had seen one. In short, Bob was also a scholar of the car. He gave lectures and lively slide presentations in many countries on cars – and pubs, another “research” subject – throughout the world.

Bob was born in New Brunswick, he died in Victoria, British Columbia, and he covered much of the world and all of Canada in his years. Right up to his death he was corresponding with students and others who sought his advice. He had friends in all walks of life. We are going to miss his great sense of commitment, his loyalty, patience, grace and passion, his knowledge and gentle kindness. We have learned a large amount from Bob Lawrence. I know he would be pleased and honoured to have the Association remember him in any way, but especially in the way you are doing so with an award for the best conference paper by a young scholar.