M. Larry Lawrence

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M. Larry Lawrence
United States Ambassador to Switzerland
In office
February 9, 1994 – January 9, 1996
President Bill Clinton
Preceded by Joseph Bernard Gildenhorn
Succeeded by Madeleine M. Kunin
Personal details
Born Maurice Larry Lawrence
(1926-08-16)August 16, 1926
Chicago, Illiinois
Died January 9, 1996(1996-01-09) (aged 69)
Bern, Switzerland
Resting place El Camino Memorial Park, Sorrento Valley, San Diego
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sheila Davis
Occupation Real estate developer

Maurice Larry Lawrence (August 16, 1926 – January 9, 1996)[1] was a United States Ambassador to Switzerland and real estate developer. In 1991, Forbes magazine named Lawrence among the 400 richest Americans and estimated his fortune at $315 million.[2]


Lawrence was born in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, and moved to San Diego, California in 1953. He married Geraldine Slesnick in 1949, with whom he had three children. He was in his fourth marriage at the time of his death, to the former Sheila Davis from Brushfork, West Virginia. They had been married since June, 1990.

Lawrence has three daughters, a son and seven grandchildren.[2] The seventh grandchild is known as ms. Maddie Lawrence.

Education and early career[edit]

Lawrence attended Wilbur Wright College in 1945 and the University of Arizona from 1945 through 1947. A biography entry for Lawrence appeared in Who's Who indicating he had graduated from the University of Arizona in 1947 with a bachelor of arts degree. The University said, however, that Lawrence attended classes there for two years and played varsity football, but left without a degree.[3]

Real estate career[edit]

San Diego millionaire John Alessio sold the deteriorating Hotel del Coronado to Lawrence in 1963. Lawrence's initial plan was to develop the land around the hotel and ultimately, to demolish it.[4] Lawrence later changed his mind. During his tenure, Lawrence invested $150 million to refurbish and expand much of the hotel. He doubled its capacity to 700 rooms. He added the Grande Hall Convention Center and two seven-story Ocean Towers just south of the hotel. Lawrence has been known to claim that L. Frank Baum wrote part of The Wizard of Oz at the hotel and that Thomas Edison supervised the wiring of parts of the hotel, neither of which were true.[5] The Lawrence family sold the hotel to the Travelers Group after his death in 1996.[6]


Lawrence's first involvement in politics was his work in the 1948 Adlai E. Stevenson II gubernatorial campaign in Illinois. He continued his political activities in California, gaining power and influence in Democratic political circles as a campaign contributor and fund-raiser.[2]

He was a delegate to Democratic National Convention from California in 1964, 1968 and 1972.

In October 1993, U.S. President Bill Clinton announced his intention to nominate Lawrence to be U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and his intention to appoint Shelia Davis Lawrence to be Special U.S. Representative to the World Conservation Union.[7] He was confirmed as ambassador in March 1994.[2][8]

In 1994, the Federal Election Commission ruled that Lawrence exceeded a $25,000 limit on the amount an individual can give to help finance an election campaign in one year. As a result, he was fined $7,179, the amount of his excess contributions. In a letter to the commission, Lawrence said he was unaware that some of his 1987 contributions counted toward the 1988 total.[9]

Death and burial[edit]

Lawrence died at age 69 in Bern, Switzerland on January 9, 1996. He had suffered from leukemia and dyscrasia, a blood disorder.[2] Richard Holbrooke, assistant secretary of state, wrote a letter praising Lawrence and requesting burial for him at Arlington National Cemetery. This was granted by Army Secretary Togo D. West, Jr. and the waiver request was approved by the Arlington superintendent.[10]

Questions were raised in 1997 about the life of Lawrence, and President Clinton ordered an investigation into whether Lawrence had lied about his military service in World War II. Congressional investigators searched military records and could not corroborate Lawrence's claims of wartime service in the Merchant Marine, or his alleged rank of "Seaman, First Class" or presence during the torpedoing of the ship SS Horace Bushnell.[10][5] On December 12, 1997, at the request of Lawrence's widow, his body was disinterred and brought to California.[3][5] He was then buried in the El Camino Memorial Park, Sorrento Valley, San Diego[11]


  1. ^ Armstrong, A.C.; Vitale, S.A.; Who's Who Historical Society (Calif.). Who's who in California. 13. Who's Who Historical Society. ISSN 0511-8948. Retrieved 2015-01-06. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "San Diego Union-Tribune Obituary". Archived from the original on November 23, 2002. Retrieved 2013-08-17. ; Jack Williams – Staff Writer; January 10, 1996
  3. ^ a b Body of Envoy To Be Removed From Arlington, NY Times, December 9, 1997
  4. ^ Williams, Jack (10 January 1996). "M. Larry Lawrence". The San Diego Union-Tribune. p. A-1. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  5. ^ a b c Body, and Tombstone of Lies, Are Removed, NY Times, December 12, 1997
  6. ^ "Historic Hotel del Coronado acquired by Travelers affiliate". findarticles.com. Business Wire. 1996-09-12. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  7. ^ White House Press Release; October 25, 1993
  8. ^ State Department file - Lawrence; Office of the Historian
  9. ^ Ambassador Is Fined for Excess Donations, NY Times, March 8, 1994
  10. ^ a b "New Questions About Envoy Who Is Buried at Arlington". NY Times. December 6, 1997. Retrieved 2015-01-06. 
  11. ^ M. Larry Lawrence at Find a Grave

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Joseph Bernard Gildenhorn
United States Ambassador to Switzerland
Succeeded by
Madeleine M. Kunin