William “Bill” David Lawson III, 95, of Gastonia, N.C. passed away peacefully at Covenant Village on October 18, 2020. He was born on October 30, 1924, in Jackson, MS, the son of William David Lawson, Jr. and Elizabeth Barksdale Lawson.
Bill began his education in the Gastonia Public Schools and later attended Woodberry Forest School in Virginia. He received a degree in Business Administration and Economics from Davidson College where he was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and later served on the College’s Board of Advisors. He received a Master of Business Administration degree from the Wharton Graduate School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Bill served in World War II from 1943 until 1946, obtaining the rank of Second Lieutenant at the age of 20, while serving as an U.S. Army infantry platoon leader in Europe for the GRS (Graves Registration Service). He was a longtime member of the American Legion.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Bill began his business career in cotton merchandising at T.J. White & Co. Memphis. He returned to Gastonia in 1952 and joined his father at W.D. Lawson & Co. International Cotton Merchants.
In 1981 he led Lawson, Lewis and Peat as president of cotton merchandising. In 1985 he merged that company with Hohenberg Bros. Co., Memphis, TN, a division of Cargill, Inc., where he was vice-president for the next 10 years until his retirement.
Bill was president of the Atlantic Cotton Association, the American Cotton Shippers Association, the National Cotton Council, Cotton Council International and the Cotton Exporters Association. He served on the Board of Managers of the New York Cotton Exchange.
He was twice named Cotton Man of the Year and was the recipient of the Harry S. Baker Distinguished Service Award from the National Cotton Council. Bill was a key participant in International Government Trade Missions, and he opened the Cotton trade in China in the early ’70s.
While his heart was always in Gastonia, Bill embraced the world beyond Gaston County with a passion, taking great pride in the more than 50 countries to which he had travelled. He encouraged his children and grandchildren to follow in his footsteps around the globe. As a reminder of his travels, Bill was always quick to sprinkle conversation with a few words of French, German, Italian, Chinese or Spanish.
Bill was also unusually tech-savvy for his generation, and he loved staying “current”. We all remember his early cell phone the size of a small briefcase lodged between the front seats of his car. Even in his last days, he was video chatting with his children and grandchildren on his “Grandpad”.
A lifelong and devoted member of the First Presbyterian Church of Gastonia, Bill was an original member of the Building Committee responsible for the current church complex. He was instrumental in placing the carillon in the church tower, later becoming an honorary carilloneur. He was always looking for ways to serve and over the decades was as an Elder, Sunday school teacher and Sunday school superintendent.
Beyond the church, Bill committed significant portions of his time, energy and resources to the local community and civic activities. There is much to learn from his example. He served as a scoutmaster early in his career while living in Memphis, TN.
He served on the Board of the First Union National Bank of Gastonia and was a member of the Newcomen Society. He was President of the Chamber of Commerce, first President of Gastonia Sister Cities, and Board member of the Community Foundation. He helped organize the creation of Covenant Village and was its first President.
Bill was a delegate to the North Carolina Senior Tar Heel Legislature and a member of the Governor’s Council on Aging. He was a SCORE counselor for many years. He received the Duke Kimbrell Lifetime Civic Achievement Award and is listed in Who’s Who in America. In 2016 Bill received the Harold T. Sumner Award from United Way for his lifelong commitment to community service in Gaston County.
Bill served as President of the Rotary Club of Gastonia and as District Governor of District 767. He was a major donor to the organization and was awarded a citation for meritorious service. He received the Distinguished Rotarian Award and was the International Rotary President’s representative. He was a recipient of the Paul Harris Award. Bill especially enjoyed the Rotary fellowship and international travel with his wife, Betsy, and close friends. He was a long-standing member of the Gaston Country Club and Trump National Golf Club at Lake Norman.
Bill was a devoted husband and father. His greatest joy was spending time with his beloved wife Betsy. During the last years of her life, they went through somewhat of a role reversal and he became her caregiver in every respect. His children and grandchildren were a source of great pride.
As he tells the story, after a Rotary Club presentation on parenting in the early 1960s, he gave up his golf weekends to take his children waterskiing on Lake Norman. This led to a home on the Lake and many fond memories there with family and friends.
Later, in the mid-1970s, he began what became an annual family dive vacation to the Cayman Islands leading to over 30 summers there with his children and later his grandchildren. A scuba diver for over 40 years, Bill never gave up his passion for the deep, and his last dive was 100+ feet in 2016 at the age of 91.
Nicknamed ‘Bulldog’, Bill was a natural extrovert and loved being surrounded by family and friends. An example was his “supper club” of friends that gathered once a month for over 60 years. Bill made a great effort to stay in good physical shape. Up until his knees gave out in his 80’s, he was a fierce competitor, playing tennis and golf; running 10K races; and hosting his annual Prostate Invitational Tennis Tournament at Lake Norman.
He continued an active lifestyle with scuba diving, regular breakfast meetings with his “1924” friends; and, most importantly, the Saturday lunches with his ROMEO (Retired Old Men Eating Out) buddies at the Gaston Country Club, which was a weekly highlight over the past couple of years.
In addition to his parents, Bill was predeceded in death by his wife of 67 years, Elizabeth “Betsy” Smith Lawson and their youngest son, Thomas Nelson Lawson.
Bill is survived by daughter Margaret Headrick (Russell) of Boone, NC; son David (Emiliana Vegas) of Naples, FL; daughter Susan zumBrunnen (John) of Charlotte, NC; daughter-in-law Teri Lawson of Huntersville, NC; eight grandchildren; sisters Betty Forrester of Savannah, GA and Charlotte Burris of Topeka, KS; sister-in-law Ginny Anne Smith of Charlotte, NC; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.
Bill’s family is grateful to all of the staff at Covenant Village and his faithful caregivers – the Courtyard staff, Lisa Hayes, and Regina Mayo – for their tireless devotion, compassion, and exceptional care. In addition, they would like to thank Gaston Hospice for the care and attention they gave Mr. Lawson.
Due to current circumstances, a private service will be held for the immediate family.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a gift to the American Military Museum of Gastonia, 109 W 2nd Avenue, Gastonia, NC 28052, Covenant Village Benevolent Fund, 1351 Robinwood Road, Gastonia, NC 28054, or the charity of the donor’s choice.
Condolences to the Lawson Family may be sent to Margaret Lawson Headrick, 496 Boone Coffey Trail, Boone, NC 28607, or online at www.mcleanfuneral.com.
McLean Funeral Directors of Gastonia is serving the family of Mr. Lawson.
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