Where his departments were short-staffed, John R. Lawrence was the type of leader who wasn't afraid to roll up his sleeves and work alongside the employees, former human resources director Nancy Duggan told commissioners Thursday.
Several longtime Dunedin employees choked back tears as they spoke to the character of a man whose name will soon live permanently in Pioneer Park, a public square he worked to help the city purchase decades ago.
Mayor Dave Eggers lauded Dunedin's beloved former leader, while impressing upon those in attendance at Thursday's city meeting that renaming a public park for a person "is not something we do often or lightly."
The commission unanimously agreed it was fitting to rename Pioneer Park the "The John R. Lawrence Pioneer Park," as a memorial to the achievements and leadership of Dunedin's longest-serving city manager.
A historical marker will be placed at the park and a dedication ceremony is planned for early April.
Lawrence died on Aug. 26 after a three-year battle with liver disease. He was 66.
Lawrence took over in the 1970s at a time when Dunedin's downtown was struggling. Wind blew tumbleweeds through the streets. The city's drinking water was reddish-orange with iron and the water treatment plants were completely dilapidated, employees recalled.
But during his 21 years, Lawrence helped turn the city around.
"Under his leadership the City of Dunedin grew from a sleepy Southern town to a vibrant tourist destination with many upscale activities for the youth, middle-aged and seniors," said Tom Anderson, former mayor during Lawrence's tenure and state representative.
Duggan, a 27-year employee who recently left to work for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, also recalled a time when city employees were stretched thin, working incredible overtime and felt very frustrated. Morale was low, she said.
She spoke of being inspired when Lawrence put on his work gloves to work with public works and solid waste employees. He would say "I'm doing it for morale."
"It meant so much for those guys," Duggan said. "... He was so respected and loved."
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