With heavy hearts and deep gratitude for his 83 years of life, we announce the passing of Leo Mercer Lawrence, III. Leo passed on Monday, September 11, 2023, at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, Missouri. He was a loving husband; a loyal brother, cousin, and friend; a devoted father, stepfather, and father-in-law; and – to his neverending joy – a deeply adoring “Poppy” to eight beloved grandchildren.
Leo was born on October 22, 1939 in Harvey, IL to the late Violet Ruth (Rymph) and Leo Mercer Lawrence, Jr. In his own words from an autobiography he penned in 1969, “Although I do not remember the early times and do not have a tail, my father assures me it was three days before the doctor could get me down from swinging from the chandelier.” He was the eldest of two children, a loving older brother to Albert James Lawrence. He also had a beloved pet goat, who he trained to perform tricks and bestowed with the creative name “Goat.” At Community High School in Blue Island, Illinois, Leo took photos for the school newspaper and yearbook and was nicknamed “Snooper.” He also managed student council campaigns for his classmates; many of them wrote in his senior yearbook that he seemed destined for a career in politics. (He, with his deep baritone, often said himself that he’d been destined for radio – because he had “the voice and face” for it.)
Leo was possessed of an unstoppable work ethic, and took his first job at age eight, working at his parents’ grocery store in Blue Island. At age 14, armed with his Polaroid camera, he approached Mr. Kline of Kline’s Department Store and offered to take photos of children with Santa Claus for 50 cents (of which he would give half to Mr. Kline). The arrangement worked so well that Mr. Kline hired him on formally. At 17, he left to take a higher-paying job for the railroad, and continued that work through moves to Buffalo and Syracuse, NY, with his family. In 1962, sick of the cold weather, he accepted a position with General Motors and moved to St. Louis, MO. In his time at GM, he worked as an inspection foreman and reclamation advisor for the Chevrolet division, and was transferred to the newly-opened Ramos Arizpe plant in Coahuila, Mexico for two years in 1981 (bringing with him an endless supply of pranks on coworkers and approximately eight words of Spanish vocabulary). Leo retired from GM in 1992 on April Fool’s Day – a date chosen, he claimed, to keep his supervisors guessing about whether he would return. He was also a born entrepreneur; among his business ventures, he started a successful slide-mount business in the late 60s. In 1994, he went to work for Prudential Real Estate, with the intent of learning enough to start his own company. And in 1995 – after studying around the clock, even on his honeymoon – he earned his broker’s license and started Leo Lawrence Real Estate, LLC. The family business endures today in the hands of his wife, Linda, and stepdaughter, Jennifer.
In 1993, on a blind date at Pio’s Restaurant arranged by a mutual friend, Leo met his wife, Linda. They were married on May 21, 1995, and spent thirty wonderful years together before his death. Leo brought to the family his own children from his previous marriages, Leo Stanley and Sarah Lynn Lawrence, and adopted Linda’s youngest daughter, Kathleen Jane, in 1996. He was also a beloved stepfather to Linda’s older two children, Jennifer Lin and Frank John Steinbruegge, Jr. The happy couple loved dinner-and-a-movie dates, their dogs, traveling together, and above all, spending time with their family. Leo was a born romantic, and to this day, Linda continues to find love notes in nooks and crannies around their house.
Of all his titles and roles, undoubtedly the one that brought Leo the most pride was “grandfather” – or more precisely, “Poppy.” Beginning with the birth of his oldest grandson, Ewan, in 1997, Leo took to the job with endless love, irrepressible enthusiasm, and far, far too many presents. Ewan was followed by Elijah, Lexi, Fiona, Phoenix, Sterling, Colin, and Ben, and with each new addition to the family, Leo’s love only grew. He kept a secret stash of toys and candy for the grandkids atop the refrigerator at the house on Woodchuck Lane, bemoaning the day each child became tall enough to see it. Each Christmas, he delighted in giving them money hidden in increasingly elaborate puzzles, recording the resulting chaos on his phone to chuckle at later. His wardrobe in later years consisted largely of “Poppy” shirts gifted to him by his grandchildren. He truly could not have been more proud.
What are the things Leo’s friends and family will remember about him? Leo grew sunflowers in his garden. He gifted Linda (and her sisters) bouquets of red roses on special occasions. He loved to fish and spend time on his pontoon boat, to listen to history audiobooks, and to drive Corvettes. He adored Mickey Mouse, drew bespectacled smiley faces on every flat surface, and secretly hid his business cards in the homes of all his children. He had a voice like Johnny Cash, except that he never met a tune he could carry. The only thing he loved more than giving someone a laugh was giving them a hand; he took every possible opportunity to help others, both in organizations like the Salvation Army and Stephen’s Ministry, and in a more quiet, personal capacity. He was a true survivor, making it through four cancers, two strokes, diabetes, and more with his indestructible good humor intact.
But perhaps the best way to remember Leo is this: as his family called friends and relatives to inform them of his passing, nearly every single person – from doctors to coworkers to high school buddies – said, “Leo really was one-of-a-kind.”
Leo is survived by his wife, Linda Lawrence (née Turner); his brother, Albert James Lawrence (Mary); his two daughters, Sarah Lynn Lawrence and Kathleen Jane Moore (Jimmy); his stepdaughter, Jennifer Lin Wilton (Greg); his grandsons Ewan Frank Burns-Wilton, Elijah Alistair Burns-Wilton, Phoenix Zachary Jones, Sterling Orion Jones, Colin John Steinbruegge, and Benjamin Leo Steinbruegge; and his granddaughters Alexia Genesis Jones and Fiona Kathleen Wilton. He was preceded in death by his father, Leo Lawrence, Jr; his mother, Violet Ruth Lawrence (née Rymph); his son, Leo Stanley Lawrence; and his stepson, Frank John Steinbruegge, Jr. (Meredith).
Leo’s family will host a celebration of his life on Saturday, September 23 at Baue Funeral Home Cave Springs. A brief visitation will be held at 2 P.M., followed by memorial services at 3 P.M. In lieu of flowers, if you feel moved to make a contribution, the family is collecting donations through GoFundMe to provide for the future education and care needs of Leo’s youngest grandchildren, Colin and Ben, who recently lost their father. Donations to the Salvation Army are also appreciated, as Leo proudly volunteered with them for many years.