Amir Freund, the city’s traffic planner and close friend, tells the story NanaimoNewsNOW He’s struggling to come to terms with the news, especially since Lawrance was in good health.
Freund competed with Lawrance at the recent Ski-to-Sea event, which they had done several times before.
“We had big plans … we wanted to do a European tour – that’s not going to happen, maybe I’ll do that for him,” Freund said, fighting back tears.
Freund was hired by the city in 2011 and the two struck up an instant friendship.
He said Lawrance was known as passionate, caring, humble and a man of action when it comes to environmental stewardship.
“He carried the city’s green flag on his shoulders for so many years. They needed something related to the environment you’re talking to Rob, that’s the guy.
Freund said Lawrance’s death was particularly tragic because he recently started a new chapter by moving to Blaine, WA to be with his wife.
Lawrance clearly expressed his joy and optimism for the future, Freund said.
City Recreation Coordinator Deb Beck worked with Lawrance for a decade, which included working with community groups on environmental restoration projects.
She said her heart sank when she heard what had happened.
“Hearing this news is just absolutely shocking and devastating to everyone who knew and loved him,” said an emotional Beck.
In addition to his day-to-day work, Beck said Lawrance often uses his free time to improve salmon-bearing streams throughout Nanaimo and remove invasive plants from environmentally sensitive areas.
“Not only was he in the office putting the plan together, he was there in person, boots on the ground in the rain, in the mud, whatever it took to see what happened.”
Lawrance always had his wellies, raincoat and a tree-planting shovel in his car, Beck said.
“He loved planting trees, it was one of his favorite pastimes.”
Beck said he has a gift for bringing a wide range of people together, from volunteers to professionals, to identify plans, implement them and deliver results.
“He was a great listener, he was able to absorb information and understand how best to work with the group and move it forward,” Beck said.
Beck said protecting bank setbacks, creating an invasive species management plan, and formulating green building regulations are just a few of the city’s key policies Lawrance has put into action.
While Lawrance was professionally kind and gentle, Beck chuckled as he recalled how competitive he was playing sports like volleyball in a work-lunch league.
The celebration of life took place at one of Lawrance’s favorite parks. A sequoia, his favorite, was planted there after the event.
A bench in his honor is planned for the nearby Departure Bay Spray Park.
Lawrance’s aunt, Dawn Groves, told the crowd, full of City employees, council members, friends and family, and environmentalists, that she will miss how Rob made people feel.
“I always felt like I had to be really great because this incredibly charismatic and lovely man who is also humble thinks I’m wonderful,” Groves said.
Lawrance leaves behind a daughter who burst into tears and addressed the crowd with one of her father’s jackets
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