One of the keepers of Gainesville’s history, Carl Lawson, died Thursday at age 95.
After nearly a century in Gainesville, Lawson not only witnessed but was involved in the community’s shift from a rural farm town to the thriving city it is today.
“Back when Gainesville was starting to get cranked up and Hall County was starting to get cranked up, he was one of the guys that was doing some of that,” said Dick Valentine, Lawson’s nephew and CEO of Hall County United Community Bank.
Valentine said Lawson would often share details about the community’s growth over the years. He said Lawson especially enjoyed talking about the things that “put Gainesville on the map.”
“He knew more about stuff around here — it was amazing what he knew,” Valentine said. “He could tell you all those stories.”
Funeral services are set for 11 a.m. today at St. Paul United Methodist Church on Washington Street in Gainesville.
Lawson knew so many details about the community because he spent much of his life working through numerous organizations to help foster Gainesville’s growth.
By trade, Lawson was an insurance and real estate salesman. One of his lasting landmarks in Gainesville is the pyramid-shaped office building on Academy Street that served as headquarters for his business for 30 years.
In his free time, Lawson was heavily involved with organizations like the Jaycees, which once cited him as its young man of the year. He was an organizer of the community chest, now United Way of Hall County. He served in leadership roles on the Northeast Georgia hospital board, the Georgia Association of Independent Insurance Agents, the Boy Scouts, the Upper Chattahoochee Development Association and St. Paul United Methodist Church.
Lawson was also one of the men who flipped the switch on Buford Dam, creating the area’s largest tourist destination, Lake Lanier. Lawson was later given the switch, which he displayed on a wall in his home.
Sissy Lawson, former mayor of Gainesville and married to Lawson’s nephew, Bobby, said Lawson cared deeply for his community.
“He had a big heart and love for this community,” Sissy Lawson said. “His part in Northeast Georgia has been enormous. His interest was in making the community a better place. It certainly has ... made our community one of the best in the world.”
Ed Nivens said he and Lawson became fast friends while working on a Jaycees community service project in 1948.
“He just enjoyed doing things for other people and for Gainesville,” Nivens said. “He was very patriotic.”
Nivens called Lawson a “staunch Republican” who loved his country.
Nephew Bobby Lawson, a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives, said Lawson “must have been one of the first Republicans in the county.”
Bobby Lawson laughed as he recalled the time many years ago when Lawson ran for tax assessor.
“His only platform was if he elected he would abolish the office,” Bobby Lawson said laughing. “Later they made it nonelected. Now they appoint the tax assessor. He was ahead of his time. He was always trying to save the county money.”
While Lawson’s friends and family said he will be missed immensely, they often laughed as they recalled moments spent with “a real character.”
After graduating from the University of Georgia, Lawson was a Bulldog for life. Nivens and Lawson watched the team’s football games together for more than 60 years.
Lawson claimed to be the last living person to witness Georgia’s 75-0 defeat of Florida in 1942.
Valentine laughed and said Lawson’s love for his alma mater caused some conflict among his brothers, all Georgia Tech graduates.
Routine was important to Lawson. Every day, until the day before his death, he would spend a few hours working out at the Chattahoochee Country Club. Once a week, he and Nivens would meet for coffee, as they’d done for years with their breakfast club.
Dennis Stockton, publisher of The Times and Lawson’s cousin, said he will miss Lawson and knowing where he’ll run into him.
“He would stop by and put notes in our drive-through window with a few words of wisdom or a news tip,” he said. “I would run into him and his buddies downtown and they always had advice for me on how to run the newspaper.”
While most people his age had given up their car keys, Lawson continued to drive his van around town. A month before his death, he was interviewed by The Times for a profile story and drove himself to the meeting.
Lawson joked he could drive better than walk as he pulled a wooden cane from the passenger seat.
“He called me a few weeks ago and said he had been in the hospital and was instructed not to drive for two weeks,” Stockton said. “He must have slipped out. It had only been a week and he was calling me from his office.”
Throughout Lawson’s life and into his final days, he stayed active and involved. Lawson claimed his active lifestyle was the reason for his longevity.
“He lived until he died,” Sissy Lawson said. “He enjoyed life and every moment of it.”
Lawson is survived by a daughter, a sister, two grandsons and numerous other relatives.