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Girl Scouts confirm: Emily 'Sissy' Lawson is a Woman of Distinction

Honor to be given at luncheon Tuesday

POSTED: April 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS /The Times

The Girl Scouts of Northeast Georgia has chosen Emily Lawson as its 2008 Gainesville Woman of Distinction.

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Emily Lawson has always been known as a woman of distinction.

But today will be the first time she will be honored as such.

The Girl Scouts of Northeast Georgia has chosen Lawson — whose list of achievements continues to grow in spite of her "retirement" — as this year’s Gainesville Woman of Distinction. Lawson, Gainesville’s first female mayor and council member, will be honored this morning at a luncheon at Gainesville First United Methodist Church.

Born into the Dunlap family, Emily "Sissy" Dunlap Lawson was destined for a life different than most. But if you would have told her before 1985 that she would be the first woman to serve on the Gainesville City Council, she might have called you crazy.

Crazy is just what she called her friend Jim Hartley when Hartley, who would not be seeking re-election, called Lawson and told her to run for his Ward 5 seat.

At that point, a woman had never been elected to an office in Gainesville or Hall County.

"I said ‘you’re crazy,’" Lawson recalls.

But Hartley told Lawson it was time for a woman to serve on the City Council, and Lawson was the one for the job.

Lawson had helped her husband, Bobby Lawson, with his campaign for the Georgia legislature. She had been involved with community organizations, and she knew the issues.

"I was lucky to have a broad range of knowing a lot of people," Lawson said. "And that’s so important when you’re running for any office, knowing people."

Lawson said she protested at first — with her children nearing middle school age, Lawson was just getting some time to play tennis when Hartley asked her to run for office — but Lawson changed her mind after friends told her it would be a good idea to run for the council seat.

"My tennis career ended, and I ran for office and I loved it," Lawson said.

Lawson loved her seat on the council so much, she spent 18 years sitting there learning to listen to people and understanding their issues, she said.

Not only did she become the first female council member, but in 1992 she became Gainesville’s first female mayor.

But it was not the first time Lawson had distinguished herself. The granddaughter of Dr. H.J. Pearce, a 50-year president of Brenau University — the man who gave Brenau its name — and the founder of Riverside Military Academy, Lawson did not attend the school her mother and her aunts attended. Lawson was different.

"I did not attend Brenau, because I felt like I wanted to see the world. ... I wanted to do something on my own," Lawson said.

Lawson instead attended Stephens College, a private college for women in Columbia, Mo., and finished with a bachelor’s of education at the University of Georgia.

Though she did not attend Brenau, she still followed "The Brenau Ideal" her grandfather penned in his days as president of the university, making it a priority to be "vigorous in mind" and "serenely confident of the limitless reaches of human endeavor."

And for Lawson there seems to be no limits. Before becoming the first Gainesville city councilwoman, Lawson said she was the third woman in the county to obtain a real estate license and has kept her credentials up-to-date since 1970. She was also one of the first women to join Gainesville’s Kiwanis Club.

Now, in her retirement, Lawson serves on numerous boards in the community and the state from Main Street Gainesville to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

And in between board meetings, she travels with her husband Bobby Lawson across the world for more knowledge. The two spend their free time exploring animals and learning history in lands many only dream of visiting.

And Lawson has finally fallen in line with her mother and aunt and is taking classes at Brenau University’s Learning and Leisure Institute for mature adults.

Despite her accomplishments and her ongoing adventures, Lawson says it is exciting and humbling to be honored as Gainesville’s 2008 Woman of Distinction, joining ranks with women who Lawson said were her mentors throughout the years.

"All the past winners I have greatly admired and am honored to be included in their group," Lawson said.



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