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March-April 2014

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In Memoriam: William “Bill” Lawrence (1957–2013)

I think the consensus of opinion among most people about how they would want to "go" is usually expressed as "while doing something I love."

Although it sounds good, when it happens to someone we know, someone we love, someone we respect, well, it is just not "good" anymore. Doing something he loved took the life of William "Bill" Lawrence on 9 October 2013. While collecting near Benson, Arizona, Bill was the victim of a massive cave-in. The details of this accident are too tragic for me to even describe, so let me concentrate on a man of exceptional passion and knowledge.

All of us in the collecting community knew Bill as part of the incredibly hard-working team of the The Rocksmiths, Inc., who for so many years were dealers at more shows than we can even list. Bill married into this team when he took Jaye Smith as his wife in 1985 following a rollicking pre-wedding party at the old Sheraton Hotel in Tucson. Jaye's parents, Eldon and Jean Smith, had been mineral dealers since the 1970s and lived on a ranch in Tombstone, Arizona.

Bill was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but his family moved to Houston, Texas, in 1960. His dad was the team coach in the high school where Bill played baseball and football. Always curious, Bill joined the Houston Gem and Mineral Society at age ten, and his dad cheerfully accompanied him on all the field trips. At first it was just "rocks"-any rock would do-and then on one of his field trips he actually found what could be called a mineral specimen. That was all it took, and, like so many of us, the thrill of the find spurred him on to spending as much time as possible in the field. Bill also always attended the local mineral shows, which was where he first met Jaye and her parents.

Yes-wait for it-I always have a love story to tell. Imagine a young man standing outside the booth watching a young woman actually talking about specimens, collecting, and all things "mineral." It was inevitable that there had to be a first date, and, this being Houston, where but a country-western bar to dance the night away. What followed was lots of correspondence back and forth, phone calls, and dates whenever the Rocksmiths came into town for a show. Knowing Bill, I like to think it was his contagious excitement about minerals and other collectibles that impressed Jaye's parents when the official meet-the-parents visit was made, but it could very well have been the stunning gourmet meal that Bill prepared for them. And he was a true "foodie"-he could look at a recipe, close the book, and then go about preparing it his way, to no one's disappointment. (I hope Jaye remembers how to make the delicious cactus juice margaritas he prepared for me!)

Bill attended Louisiana State University and Texas A&M, where he majored in geology. He began his career at Superior Oil Company doing thin-section work. His attention to detail, quality, and accuracy brought him to the attention of Robertson Research, based in England (it is now Fugro), and he was hired as manager of the Reservoir Geology Lab and was in charge of all SEM and thin-section work. When Robertson shut down its lab operations in Houston in 1985, it seemed like a crisis was looming: newly married, no job, and no prospects. Thus, he took to the road with the Rocksmiths, which, as we all remember, meant a show every weekend in every part of the country.

Then a job interview with Texaco (thanks to Emily Stout!) was so successful that it afforded Bill the opportunity to move quickly through the ranks and eventually to the position as manager of its Thin-Section Lab and Core Lab. When Texaco and Chevron merged into one giant company, he worked in the Drilling Cement Lab until there was an opening back in the Reservoir Geology Group managing worldwide core; he eventually became head of the eSEM lab and was responsible for all eSEM work for Chevron units and partners. Bill was co-contributor on many external and internal Chevron-produced geologic reports. (And to the professor who once suggested that Bill would never be a good geologist and should find another profession: perhaps you, professor, might want to seek another profession.) After twenty-eight years with Texaco and Chevron, Bill retired early, at age fifty-five, in 2012.

Some years before that, Eldon and Jean Smith had moved from their ranch in Tombstone to a house in the rural saguaro cactus-filled area outside of Tucson to enjoy their now-retired life. When the land next to theirs became available, Jaye and Bill bought it, and Bill began to design and plan their dream house for their own retirement.

During their years together, Bill and Jaye traveled the world in search of minerals, and Bill was never without a camera to document the trips-a walk across the frozen Volga River, the ice caves in Iceland, the five-day horseback ride on the Pena Trail, the race-car driving schools-he lived such an eventful and fun-filled life. Even while working at Texaco, Bill would catch the redeye on Friday nights to meet up with Jaye wherever she was working a show and then fly back again on Sunday nights, ready for work the next day. Talk about a frequent flyer!

From 2008 to 2010 (when the house was completed), they worked together on the house and made certain it matched their expectations for the fit and placement of their many collections. When Bill retired, they moved in permanently. And a house full of collections it is; not only Bill's beloved self-collected minerals, but pottery, artwork, a Texaco-specific room filled with company memorabilia, and so much more. One thing that was not left out was the big gourmet kitchen for Bill. The stone walls around the house were put in place, rock by rock, by Bill and Eldon.

This brings us to the famous beard and mustache! Certainly, there was a lot to notice about Bill, but the facial hair gave us all a chuckle because only Bill could pull it off. Somehow it suited him, and I could not imagine him any other way.

Bill obtained a Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) certificate with a particular purpose in mind: to collect at the Freeport McMoRan properties with fellow Tucsonian collector Stan Esbenshade. I am sad that this never happened, but I would guess that Stan will pick up a good specimen at one of the properties and have Bill in his thoughts.

A man of many tastes and talents-race-car driver, award-winning photographer, published author, highly successful field collector, master of wit, gourmet cook, caring family guy-I hate to say goodbye to someone like this. Remember him well ….

Dona Leicht and her husband, Wayne, have owned and operated Kristalle in Laguna Beach, California, since 1974.

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