Thomas Rainer Lawrence
September 6, 1939 – March 22, 2017
He was infuriating, exasperating, ill-tempered, impatient, opinionated, and foulmouthed. He was also a clever, funny, devoted, kind, generous, down-to-earth, practical, and wise counselor, mentor, and friend. Tom Lawrence was a study in contradiction and complexity.
Tom was the founder of Front Porch Press, LLC, our parent company, which he began in order to give lesser-known Southern writers an avenue to self-publish. Tom left our midst yesterday after succumbing to a terminal illness that was discovered only recently. He leaves behind a score of people whose lives he positively impacted and who will never forget him.
It is impossible to summarize Tom’s full life in a few, short paragraphs, but, suffice it to say, Tom pretty much enjoyed the whole ride. While there were plenty of struggles and some painful experiences, of which not everyone was aware, he always managed to pick himself up and move on to do “the next indicated thing.” He might anguish about something briefly, but, ultimately, he would lay all the facts out on the spreadsheet that was his brain, formulate a plan, and execute it—one step and “one day at a time.”
Like all of us, Tom was a product of his early childhood and environment. As a military brat, he attended more schools in his first few years than most of us do during our entire educational experience, and, with red hair and knickers, he was an easy target for schoolhouse bullies. After a few losing altercations early on, however, Tom developed a preemptive policy to deal with that dilemma. On the very first day at any new school, he would determine who the nastiest kid on the playground was and then walk right up and punch him! Tom was immediately deemed to be either the meanest kid ever, or just plain crazy, which prevented future assaults on his person and established his dominance. A less violent version of that strategy would serve him well throughout his life.
The longest stretch in any one spot for Tom (when he was a kid) was in the Mississippi Delta, the home of his maternal grandparents. Tom cherished that locale and the friendships he cultivated there. Most of those connections lasted his lifetime, and the place itself became an integral part of Tom’s being. He loved the land, the food, the people, and his exhilarating—often outrageous and perilous—childhood and teenage exploits, and he came to have a wide-ranging understanding of the culture and what made the Delta the Delta. The experience and the awareness Tom gained there would inform the rest of his years and, later, his writing.
Perhaps Tom wasn’t the MVP during his fleeting football career in junior high and high school in the Delta and briefly in Jackson, Mississippi, but there was likely never a team member who worked harder at achieving athleticism than Tommy Lawrence. Whatever he lacked as a player, however, he more than made up for as a lifelong, passionate, and zealous fan of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. When the “Dawgs” had a stellar year in 2014, there wasn’t a more joyful or fervent supporter on the planet. The team inspired Tom, and he, from the beginning of the season to the end, meticulously wrote a play-by-play journal of each game. That journal became his delightful book My Magic Year, which even readers who weren’t football fans enjoyed for the obvious love of the game that Tom communicated in a very personal approach.
A lifetime of experiences, education, and avid reading provided Tom with a world of information, and Tom believed that he had the ability to weave all of that material into compelling narratives. As time permitted, he became a passionate, imaginative, and prolific writer, growing more adept with each undertaking. His blog, As I Like it, while sending some of his followers to the brink of wrath, provided others with amusement at what defiant opinion was going to emerge from his head and computer next.
When Tom’s first experience with a self-publishing company was found to be substandard, he wasn’t to be defeated, but, in typical Lawrence form, decided, “Hell, I’ll just start my own publishing house!” He established Front Porch Press, LLC as an avenue of publication for his books—six to date—and to provide that same opportunity for other Southern writers. Jake’s Revenge was his first fictional novel, one that achieved great success, and Tom has left behind several fictional manuscripts to be made available in the future.
Tom Lawrence reinvented himself so many times that you needed a program to keep up, but, at his foundation, he was an exceptional salesman. Tom understood the basics of marketing and what was necessary to promote whatever product, idea, or service that was put in his charge. To that end, he was fully versed in every situation and was a master of persuasion and at delivering pertinent facts with authority.
Tom was smart as hell—brilliant on many levels—but heavy machinery, such as computer printers, cell phones, and television remote controls, quivered in his presence, as did anyone within hearing distance of his attempts to operate them. However, when faced with a problem, whether on a personal level or in business, everyone knew that, if solicited, Tom would shoot straight and deliver thoughtful, intelligent, common-sense possibilities for a solution or resolution and that he could and would offer sound, persuasive, and pragmatic direction and support.
For many years, Tom worked diligently at becoming spiritually fit, and one of the perks of that hard work was that he was totally at peace with whatever happened next—far more comfortable with that outcome than are the people who loved him, and those are abundant and far-reaching. Whether known as Tom, Tommy, Lawrence, or Dad, he has left an unforgettable mark on many lives, and, for us, the world will never be quite the same in the face of his absence.
—Deborah Carpenter, Front Porch Press
Mississippi State University Bulldogs—Winners of the 2016 Egg Bowl
Memorial gifts may be made to the Tom Lawrence Endowed Scholarship Fund at Mississippi State University, MSU Foundation, P.O. Box 6149, Mississippi State, MS 39762. Online donations may be made at msufoundation.com and designate your gift for the
Tom Lawrence Endowed Scholarship Fund.