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Today, April 19th, is Andrea Mead Lawrence’s birthday. Andrea was a force of nature—an Olympic double gold medalist in skiing, mother of five, visionary environmental leader, 16-year Mono County Supervisor, and a steadfast advocate for Mono Lake’s protection.
Before COVID-19 forced us to pause the event, we would gather for the annual Andrea Lawrence Award Dinner and presentation of the Andrea Lawrence Award for passionate engagement in community and the land. This year we have moved our celebration of her exceptional and influential life online through gathering and sharing the following stories and memories.
Memories of Andrea
I have a picture of Andrea among my most treasured belongings. It was taken in the summer, early 1990s. I think it was a year or so before the State Water Board made its decision to save Mono Lake.
Andrea had dropped by the Mono Lake Committee’s Lee Vining office and found me adrift in papers. Like a good friend and second mom, she announced that I needed a break and then drove me in her far-too-fast Subaru to walk at Simon Springs near Mono Lake. I don’t recall who took the picture of the two of us wandering through the rabbitbrush that late afternoon. But, when I look at it, I vividly remember Andrea’s laughter and love as she teased me about being more “Type A” than she was. It became a standing joke between us.
Andrea was a great-hearted champion in so many ways. We all know her as the first American alpine skier to win two Olympic gold medals. But she was so much more than that. Andrea was passionate about the Eastern Sierra environment and never stopped working to protect the place and people she loved. Even in the last days of her illness she was helping to win additional Congressional protection for Mono and Inyo County federal lands.
I think of her often now in this world that can feel rudderless. I hear Andrea’s voice insisting that we must stand up to “tyranny” (her word) in whatever form that abusive behavior takes: bullying, cheap shots, underhanded political stunts, communities left without clean or affordable water, development and water diversions that rip out the heart of the land—unfairness of any kind. Andrea would have been at the front of today’s protest lines fiercely fighting to make things better, just as she did every day of her life.
In my picture Andrea’s hair is tousled and slightly back-lit by the sun, so she looks akin to St. Exupery’s “Little Prince.” Her teasing but encouraging smile tells me to stay the course: stand up for what is right, and all will be well.
—Martha Davis, Mono Lake Committee Board member and former Executive Director
She was a pragmatist, an idealist, an intellectual, and maybe most importantly a dreamer. She was one of the country’s most accomplished and effective environmental advocates.
—Rusty Gregory, Alterra Mountain Company CEO
I must have been just around eight years old when I was lucky enough to meet Andrea Lawrence for the first and only time. I remember being very strongly aware of how kind she was—8-year-old me and my 5-year-old sister somehow felt comfortable sitting in the house of this woman we didn’t know much more closely than a stranger at that time. She let Ellery and me hold one of her gold medals and I remember her smiling as I remarked at how much heavier it was than I had expected. Years later, when we climbed Mt. Andrea Lawrence, I thought back to the day I met her and felt so lucky to have experienced her genuine kindness.
—Caelen McQuilkin, Amherst College student, Lee Vining High School graduate
My first job in Mammoth was concrete. I worked for John Evans and Don Schmidt. One day we were subbed out to Lakeview Boulevard to help pour a giant slab. After the day was over I went home, cleaned up and sat down to dinner with the family. I told them what I did that day. Mom looked at me for a few seconds then asked if I knew that I was working on the very development that Friends of Mammoth was fighting. I explained that until I arrived at the job I did not. She then asked if I was going to quit. There is asking, then there is “asking,” in the context of my Mom. Next day I show up and give notice. Mere hours later the people of the State of California shut the job down. Forever.
September 11, 2015: I, my son Zachary, Tom “TK” Kearns, and Tyler Cooper, a friend of Zach’s are standing at the summit of Mt. Andrea Lawrence paying our respects. I thought of that story while there—I am not certain why that occurred to me just then, but as we went back to camp the thought formulated that there are those who build monuments to their egos and there are those to whom ego plays no part. That was Mom.
There is symmetry to Mt. Andrea Lawrence standing over the headwaters of Rush Creek. The battles Mom took on, and battles they were, were not to satisfy a need for aggrandizement but because they were righteous. A true testament to the citizen advocate. One can make a difference. Love ya Mom!
—Corty Lawrence, Andrea’s son
I really miss hearing her greeting, “Hey there, Mr. Byng,” as she offered me valuable advice over the many years that I attempted to “fill her shoes” on the Mono County Board of Supervisors. She was truly an ongoing personal inspiration … and good friend.
—Byng Hunt, former Mono County Supervisor
My first meeting with Andrea was when I picked her up to go to a Board of Supervisors meeting in Bridgeport to testify about protecting wilderness in the Eastern Sierra. We hit it off immediately because I learned that she had been a County Supervisor and I had been a County Commissioner. In Indiana, Supervisors were called Commissioners.
One evening we were sitting on our deck after dinner and Andrea identified woodpeckers for us as we were relatively new to the area. She also had long conversations with my husband Malcolm about Islam. He had written Islam for Dummies in 2003 and gave her a copy.
We so enjoy looking at “her mountain” and remembering good times with this remarkable woman.
—Sharon Clark, Mammoth Lakes resident
Andrea asked us to reach down inside ourselves, to look at our own core values, to make an honest assessment of our goals, to find that inner strength—the inner flame—that flows from who you are and what you value as a person. And she showed us that when you tap into this inner flame, you can accomplish anything. Which of course she did, again and again. And by doing so, she changed the landscape of Mono County and the entire state of California for the better.
—Geoff McQuilkin, Mono Lake Committee Executive Director
My favorite Andrea story was actually told to me by Rusty Gregory. He prefaced the story by explaining that Andrea was always a “big picture” person. One day he and Andrea were in the car together and Andrea said, “Rusty I have an idea—a vision—for what you should do with June Mountain,” which they both knew was operationally a financial challenge for the Mammoth Company. Rusty’s aside to me at this point in the story was, “After years of knowing and working with Andrea, I am always nervous when she comes to me with an idea.” She went on to describe converting June Mountain to a center along the lines of the Aspen Institute—a Sierra Institute as she saw it. Convert and expand the infrastructure to support conferences for dozens or hundreds of people who would come to address issues and problems together. I know that I and others here in Mono County experienced the same nervousness when Andrea would share one of her amazing “visions” with us. Many of those ideas and visions were realized of course which is why we celebrate this amazing woman.
—Tony Taylor, Mammoth Lakes resident
Mom’s 89th birthday! Hard to believe! Mom’s spirit and life permeate every minute of my day, influence every decision I make, and help balance every self-reflection. She was a sometimes elusive and reticent parent (she was a great mom, but her approach was not what one would call normal; that was just her … but her upbringing wasn’t exactly normal either), which took me awhile to understand; I really got it when I had my own children. She did not want to be the arbiter of what our goals were—she wanted us to be free to decide for ourselves. Once we made a decision, she was the epitome of support; a great listener, a great advisor, and a great resource. I think this is how she approached everything. She had an iron-clad set of values, an open and curious intellect, and a fierce, unwavering belief in herself and the people around her and their ability to accomplish amazing feats. She brought all that to bear in each and every fight she fought and in all the causes she believed in. She hung on to certainty like she had talons, but only after exhaustive research and learning. Even as kids, we would have to come to an argument with our facts straight … which of course, as kids, we never did, so she usually ate us alive! Our only leverage was her mom’s love, which we learned often came with some reprieve for us!
I think we all fell in love with Mono Lake at different times; for me it was as I grew old enough to go exploring on my own. My first car was a ’63 Land Rover 88, and I’d disappear for hours or a couple days all around Mono County. So many times I’d find myself back at Mono Lake. I’d get back home and sit with Mom talking about its mysticism and magic, and she knew exactly what I was entranced by. Mom held the entire Sierra Nevada mountain range in that same enthralled status. There is no doubt in my mind her spirit flies free throughout it all now, resting peacefully along the magical shores of Mono Lake, racing down untold gleaming slopes, and singing (although, in loving honesty you are somewhat fortunate you can’t hear; that amazing, accomplished woman could not carry a tune!) through the clouds with open wings. It is where she belongs for the ages. I see her serenely surveying her beloved Sierra Nevada mountains from atop Mt. Andrea Lawrence and know it’s her heart’s fulfillment. I am so honored and fulfilled at being one of her children, and to have been lucky enough to have had that not-normal parent listening, cajoling, and guiding me into my life. Birthday love and angels’ hugs, Mom. I miss you every minute, but I know you’re here with all of us.
—Matthew Lawrence, Andrea’s son
Andrea and I traveled many times to Mono Lake Committee board meetings. One time when board meetings were in West LA, we stayed with Edith Gaines, who lived nearby, so it was an old lady slumber party. We all shared a bathroom and I noticed a tube of hair product called “Big Sexy Hair.” I asked Andrea if this was hers and she replied that, yes it was, no explanation or joke or anything, so I didn’t point out she had short and white hair.
Another time Andrea was driving me to Bridgeport for some meeting and we stopped in Lee Vining for gasoline at Union 76 (now the Shell Station). When we got out of the car, Shelley Channel, the owner for forever, just looked at us and said, “Oh boy, double trouble.”
I’m sure others have pointed out she drove a car like she ski raced: fast.
—Sally Gaines, Mono Lake Committee co-founder and board chair
Throwing her head back with that wonderful guffaw total-gut laugh, Andrea joked about going on food stamps because there’s no way she would get re-elected after suing the Town of Mammoth Lakes. So many times over the decades, she was willing to sacrifice her well-being fighting for justice. Her lawsuit in the 1970’s against the Town resulted in the birth of CEQA, a monumental achievement. She received death threats, horrible letters and there were many efforts to stop her, but she never blinked. Then or ever.
We were sitting at the far southwest corner booth at the Mogul Restaurant, where many environmental meetings were held. Dan Hayden, founder and owner of the Mogul at the time and always up for a good fight against the dark side, hosted these meeting always at this same table. We had meetings to try to stop development in the Mammoth Meadow, to fight against a proposed aggregate pit where the gas tanks reside, a campaign to move the geothermal tanks and have them painted the current dark olive green, and yet another to stop the Town’s immoral redevelopment plan and other grand follies. A few of the regulars were Sydney Quinn, Marilyn Hayden, Tim Sanford, Myron & Shirley Blumberg, Lou Roeser, Nancy Whitmore, and more. There was always strategizing and marking up maps regarding proposed wilderness boundaries and Forest Plans. Andrea’s friend, mentor, and wealth of knowledge, Genny Smith, headed these particular meetings. Some wins, a lot of compromises and many no wins (somehow, it’s just not accurate to call such efforts failures for the movement and energy always lives on). Next time you’re enjoying a dinner at the Mogul, ask for the corner table and toast Andrea for the gifts she and others gave us all.
—Greg Newbry, Mammoth Lakes resident
I remember it was during or soon after Andrea underwent cancer treatment, my wife Erika and I went skiing at Deadman Summit and we ran into her on the cross-country ski trail. I remember being impressed at the time that she was out there—but of course she wasn’t letting cancer get in the way of doing what she loved! Of my many memories of Andrea—mostly at meetings and events—this one, of her skiing on the groomed corduroy track through the Jeffrey pines, is my favorite way to remember her.
—Greg Reis, Mono Lake Committee Information & Restoration Specialist
Hello and happy birthday, Mom! The Mono Lake Committee has requested that I write a story about you for what would have been your 89th birthday celebration along with the Andrea Lawrence Award event for the “Covid years!” This is how my story goes:
It’s been 12 years since you went back to God. I miss you every day and still think about going to the phone to call you and just talk! You always were the best conversationalist to me, we had some good talks, didn’t we. I recall we saved the world a few times!!!! If only they had listened! I thank you every time I ski for the gift that it is my life. Thank you for giving me the love of classical music so loud it shakes the walls! Sorry if my loud rock and roll made you crazy but what did you expect? Oh, thank you for being on the phone so much that I got to drive the car around the hill we lived on when I was ten years old!! I’m still shocked you didn’t stop me but only laughed about it!
Thank you for teaching me the beauty and serenity of nature from those days you took me out of school to go to Yosemite to the books you read to me as I fell asleep to the amazing homes we lived in and all of those walks in the meadow. Thank you for teaching me the love and power of the written word through poetry and prose. I still have the book you used to read from when I was very young; it’s falling apart from my leafing through it. Actually, I found so many of the books you gave to me as a child with the loving inscriptions in your unique handwriting; they live by my bed so I can go back to them and read them to my grandchildren whom you never had the chance to meet. Layla, my granddaughter, reminds me of you—she has a beautiful spirit and your special twinkle in her eye.
What I’ve learned about you since you are no longer here with us, is that you lived the life that God had planned for you and you did it with amazing grace and beauty even through the tough times. I know firsthand it was not easy but you persevered through tears and frustration and got it done. You are still my hero, the strongest woman in the world and one of the most gentle humans I have ever met. I am so grateful to be your daughter every day. Thank you and I love you!
—Quentin Lawrence, Andrea’s daughter
Do you have a memory of Andrea or a story to share?
Carrying on Andrea’s legacy
In 1998, Andrea told Olympic historian David Wallechinsky that she had asked herself: “What if I could take the same sort of striving for high-quality perfection that I did with my skiing and apply it to something good, something relevant to life?” “That’s how she became an environmentalist,” Wallechinsky recalled to the Los Angeles Times after she died.
After Andrea’s passing in 2009, her non-profit, the Andrea Lawrence Institute for Mountains and Rivers (ALIMAR), led by her daughter Quentin, approached the Mono Lake Committee and together both organizations crafted a plan to transfer the ALIMAR program to the Committee. The result was the Andrea Lawrence Fund, which was created to promote and celebrate passionate engagement in community and the land with an emphasis on encouraging collaboration and inspiring youth to become environmental leaders. We welcome your donations to the Fund in Andrea’s memory:
More about Andrea
Read more about Andrea’s inspirational life and enduring legacy in these posts about her memorial service in 2009 and the Sierra Nevada peak that was named after her: Mt. Andrea Lawrence.