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Obituary Condolences

Robert Taylor Lawson July 18, 1926 - April 24, 2013 Robert ("Bob") Taylor Lawson passed away unexpectedly from natural causes on April 24, 2013 at his home on Mercer Island, Washington. Bob is mourned by his wife of eleven years Ruth Olsen Lawson and her children Andy, Susan and Rolf, adoring daughter Beth Nervo and devoted son-in-law Dave Nervo of Anderson, California, adoring daughter Melinda Lawson of Corte Madera, adoring daughter Susan Rios and devoted son-in-law Lou Rios of Tiburon, son Andrew Lawson and loving daughter-in-law Kelly Lawson of Corte Madera, grandchildren David and Anne Kreider, Juliana and Megan Rios, and Eleanor and Annabel Lawson, sister-in-law Chris Persily and husband Harold, nieces Laureen, Tracy and Kristen, and nephew Richard. Born six weeks premature on July 18, 1926 to Clarence and Isabel Lawson in Chehalis, Washington. Typical of such early births in rural America at the time, Bob was not expected to live and spent the first weeks of his life in a dresser drawer warmed by a light bulb and cared for by his aunt Alice. But demonstrating the tenacity and vigor that would come to characterize his very successful business, social and family lives, Bob not only survived, he thrived. As soon as he was able, Bob began working, first as a paperboy and later bagging groceries at the A&P. An outstanding student, upon graduation from Kent High School, Bob was matriculated into the prestigious Navy V-12 program during which he studied civil engineering at Miami University of Ohio, University of Michigan, and, finally, at the University of Washington where he earned his BS in Civil engineering in 1948. Bob earned straight A's throughout his college career except, to his minor annoyance, one A-. Bob met the love of his life, Bebe Wiley, at the University of Washington and the two were married in April, 1950. It was a classic, beautiful marriage and partnership that lasted until Bebe's passing in 2000, just short of 50 years. After marrying, Bebe accompanied Bob to Quantico, Virginia where he completed his military service as a Marine Corps instructor at the Officers Candidate School there. Enthusiastic and sociable, the young couple made many friends and became skilled hosts, a genuine pleasure that continued throughout their life together. Bob began his career as a civil engineer at Dames and Moore in Southern California. Under the tutelage of Trent Dames and others, Bob excelled and soon became a partner in the firm. In 1960, with three young children, Bob made the bold move to join Richard ("Dick") Harding at a new engineering company Dick had started in San Rafael, Harding Associates. With the addition of Gene Miller, the firm of Harding, Miller and Lawson began to establish itself as a company specializing in geotechnical, or soils, engineering, Gene Miller left the firm, and Harding Lawson Associates ("HLA"), as it was known for the majority of its existence, grew to be the largest private employer in Marin County. With headquarters on Atherton Avenue in Novato and offices in Guam, Honolulu, Anchorage, Reno, Houston, Santa Rosa, Concord, San Francisco and Tustin, HLA employed hundreds of engineers, geologists, and earth scientists, and the staff to support them. Until it went public in 1987, HLA was a family-oriented company, and Bob loved the annual Company Picnics at places like Boyes Hot Springs in Sonoma and Angel Island. Employee turnover at HLA was virtually non-existent thanks to Bob's and the other principals' appreciation and understanding that everyone in the company was integral to its success, and their unwavering commitment to providing the highest quality engineering services available. By the 1970's, HLA was one of the premier geotechnical engineering firms in the western United States, and arguably the best in Northern California. Local projects include the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, many of Marin and Sonoma's residences, and many of the downtown San Francisco high rises including the entire Embarcadero Center development. A documentary film was made about HLA's engineering in support of Shell Oil's exploration of the Beaufort Sea on the North Slope of Alaska, and "HLA jobs," as Bob referred to them, can be found across the globe. Bob's extraordinary engineering, management and interpersonal skills did not go unnoticed. He was National Director of the American Society of Civil Engineers ("ASCE"), President of the San Francisco Section of ASCE, and Director of the Consulting Engineers of California. Bob was also a member of the Structural Engineers of Northern California, a closely related engineering discipline with whose members he enjoyed years of stimulating professional and personal interaction with Friday lunches at the Engineers Club in the Ferry Building, through Club Curry events, and during myriad social and professional travels. When Bob and Bebe made the move from Pasadena to Marin, they settled in one of the new little houses on Starling Road in Tam Valley. At the time, the houses flooded badly in the winter, so Bob purchased a lot in Scott Highlands and hired noted Mill Valley builder and WWII infantry veteran A. B. "Gus" Costigan to design and build a home. The home Gus built was (and remains) exquisitely charming, but with the arrival of a fourth child, the "Gus House" proved too small and in 1967 the family moved to a spacious house (with a pool!) in Greenbrae. Over the next twenty years, Bob and Bebe entertained hundreds of friends and business associates, from interesting clients including a Nigerian king to fog-weary colleagues from San Francisco eager to enjoy summer sun and a swimming pool. Once the children were out of the nest, Bob and Bebe downsized to a house on a ridge in Tiburon where they enjoyed an amazing, mesmerizing view of the Golden Gate, Marin Headlands and Mt. Tam. The fog flowing over the hills and down to the bay was a sight Bob and Bebe never tired of and their many guests always remembered. In 1965, Bob survived a malignant melanoma thanks to Bebe's prompt recognition of the deadly skin cancer. Infused with a renewed appreciation for the tenuousness of life, and recognizing the paramount importance of family, Bob committed the entire family to learning the sport of snow skiing, whether his 4, 8, 11 and 13 year old kids wanted to or not. Little did he know that this activity would become as important to him as it did. Over the years, the Lawson clan spent many memorable vacations with the Toft, Lowry, Wosser, Dalton and Bull clans at the resorts near Lake Tahoe. Bob became a pretty good skier, despite starting the sport at age forty and on equipment that was infinitely more difficult to handle, much less master, that today's modern gear. He and Bebe took ski vacations to nearly every major resort in the United States and Canada, often with friends from their home state of Washington, including Brooks and Mary Loop, Bob and Casey Bockhoven, Larry and Anne Dona, and Gordon and Mary Lou Knudsen. In 1982, Bob and Bebe purchased a home in Sun Valley, Idaho, and every year afterwards, until Bob couldn't ski anymore at age 83, Bob hosted at least two ski weeks for their friends, old and new. After Bebe passed in 2000, Bob was fortunate to reconnect with and marry a wonderful woman, Ruth Olsen. He and Ruth eventually settled on Mercer Island, Washington, as their base for worldwide travel. By the end, Bob had been to just about every place on earth, or close to it. He was a warm, compassionate, generous man, a loving father of four and an important father figure to many, all of whom loved him deeply and appreciated his sage advice and calm demeanor. He liked to say, "Don't sweat the small stuff (and it's mostly small stuff)." Bob's legacy and the values which he embodied is not small stuff, and he will be missed by many. Bob's many friends are invited to attend a celebration of his life on June 29, 2013 from 3:00 to 5:00 pm at Jason's Restaurant, 300 Drakes Landing Rd., Greenbrae. For those inclined, the family suggests making a donation in Bob's memory the University of Washington College of Engineering, Engineers Without Borders, or the San Francisco Section of ASCE.
Published in Marin Independent Journal from May 24 to May 29, 2013
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