Ms. Ada Louise Lawrence

I met Ada Lawrence while I was coaching and teaching at Tech Memorial High School in 1975. I found her to be a combination of all the women that I had known and learned about. She had the grace and royalty of the Queen of Sheba, the vision and fortitude of Mary McCleod Bethune and the compassion and love of Eleanor Roosevelt. Those were some of the things that drew me to Ada. The one thing that really stood out was her grasp and knowledge of the times in which she lived. Every minute detail had been sorted and stored away for future reference. She could easily access that information as quickly and accurately as any super computer of today and spin a story around it that you could never forget. It was this preciseness, this depository of historic facts and data that compelled me to listen and to discover. I learned so much from Ada. It was like a malnourished body being filled with life saving nutrients. I would visit her home and she would expound on her family, other Erie families and would top it off with documents and pictures supporting every bit of information that she gave. She was, in fact, a walking Black History book. I was fascinated and intrigued by every word she spoke. As she spewed out name after name with dates, achievements, etc., it was mind-boggling to receive all the information that she had stored. The Baxter’s, Wendell King, John Hicks and others, were merely some of the people she would talk about. My personal interest went past Ada. I began to wonder about what parents had birthed and nurtured this prodigy. I asked Ada to tell me everything that she could about her family, thus the story begins.

Erie's Historical Icon Passes

Ada Louise Lawrence (“Ada Lou”), age 93 of Erie, passed away on Thursday, March 6, 2014 at Sunrise Assisted Living. She was born to the late Earl E. Lawrence and Belle Clark Lawrence on October 21, 1920.

Ada attended Burns Elementary School, Gridley Junior High School and graduated from Strong Vincent High School class of 1939. She attended Cheyney State Teachers College where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. She received her Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling from Gannon University. She also received an Exceptional Education Certificate from Penn State University. She worked as a teacher for thirty-six years until her retirement from the Erie Public Schools. Ada was the first African American teacher hired in the 1940’s.

She was a member of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul where she served in many church capacities specifically the Altar Guild, having been baptized there at the age of 6. She was also a member of the Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Delta Kappa Gamma Society.

Ada was one of the founding members of the Poisettes Bowling Club and the Hi-Lites Club. Her community involvement included helping the students she taught and the citizens within her neighborhood. She was one of the original Incorporators of the Bayfront NATO – Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, and a member of the Board of the Dr. Gertude Barber Center. She served many years with the Erie Chapter of the NAACP and the Harry T. Burleigh Society and on numerous other Boards and Commissions. She has been honored by the Erie City Council and many other organizations for her service and contributions to the Erie community. Last year a street was named honoring her and her family and designated as the Lawrence Family Way.

Family and friends were Ada’s love and joy. She grew up spending time with all of her relatives and particularly enjoyed the visits of Harry T. Burleigh, a family friend, to her childhood home. She loved to travel with her friends on many trips to the Greek Isles and other foreign points of interests. Ada enjoyed playing her viola and listening to music and bowling with her many friends of the Poisettes Bowling Club. She was an avid and accomplished bowler having won many trophies for her prowess. She enjoyed the company and companionship of her cats.

Her greatest joy was maintaining historical records of her family and sharing her vast knowledge of Erie history with all who would listen. Many books highlighting African American history in Erie used her vast personal knowledge and immaculate preserved archives to tell the story of Erie African Americans.

Ada is survived by cousins, Karen Louise Faciane (Gregory), Aurora, CO; Kevin Lawrence Gomez, Denver, CO; Terry Lucas (Pat Ray), Ogden, UT; and a devoted friend Johnny Johnson. She also leaves behind many caring and long time friends.

Friends may call at the Burton Funeral Home and Crematory Inc, 602 West 10th Street, Tuesday March 11th from 4-8 pm and are invited to attend services at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul Wednesday March 12th at 11 am. Burial will be at the Erie Cemetery. The family wishes to thank all of those who cared for Ada especially the staff at Sunrise Assisted Living and the Asera Care Hospice team.

Memorials may be made to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, 302 Chestnut Street, Erie, PA 16507, the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul, 134 West 7th Street, Erie, PA 16501, or the Dr. Gertrude A. Barber Center, 136 East Avenue, Erie, PA 16507.

Remembering Ada Lawrence - Tribute (Erie Times News, March 21, 2014) by Johnny Johnson

A writer once said that the only certainty in life in death. On March 6th an icon of the Erie community faced that certainty. I believe that for those who have answered the Master’s call face it with confidence and assurance. The ninety three years that Ada Lawrence was allowed to traverse this plane called earth left an indelible impression upon those whom she met on her journey. It certainly did for me.

What of a woman who defied the odds of being black in a period of America’s worst demonstration of democracy and equality to its fellow citizens? Did she seethe with anger? Did she blame others for her lot in life? She saw her immense potential and she let that me her guide. In my many conversations with Ada, she told me how as a young child she would gather her dolls around her and teach them. Was this the impetus that pushed her forward? Or was it because her father was a teacher and she wanted to follow in his footsteps being highly aware of his own struggles?

In her time black women did not go to college but became housewives and maids. What spark from deep inside pushed her to attain what seemed like the unattainable? She obtained her college degree and taught in Cambridge Maryland. But her desire was to come home and use her talents and gifts to enhance those in her community. It is well documented in letters and correspondence in her archives how Erie was not ready to employ a black teacher or as the newspaper proclaimed when she was finally hired, a “negress”.

Ada put this all behind her and pushed forward with assurance that she could and would make a difference in the community in which she was reared and loved. Her primary interest was the betterment of the children she taught and her community at large.

The things that she accomplished personally were irrelevant to her purpose his life. Because of the lack of historical research of Erie African American history she was given the title of the first black teacher in Erie. She knew that others had worn that mantel before her. She never gloated on this historical incorrect fact.

I believe that there are words in a song that says, “you don’t know what you had until it’s gone”. For those who never encountered Ada Lawrence you missed a blessing. Young people if you never saw grace, dignity, and elegance her life would have been an example for you. I and Ada’s family would like to thank her lifelong friends and acquaintances for their thoughts and words of encouragement on her passing. It truly gave us a better insight into who she was and her many contributions to the Erie community. I hope that as future Erie generations look back upon her time that the embedded fossils of her life’s contributions are noted and documented.