Laurie Hancock Waddy disproved the theory that women can't make it in a man's world. She excelled in the business world and in the arts.|
Laurie was born on June 18, 1923, on the family farm in Reiner Township, Pennington County, MN, the daughter of Soren and Elga (Sigerud) Hermanson. She grew up with her six siblings in a very close-knit family with simple and deep values, one of which was a boundless desire to learn. This was fostered by her father, an immigrant from Tromso, Norway, who, in addition to building their home and farming the land, read the newspaper every day cover to cover. She attended school in a one-room schoolhouse. In order to attend high school in Thief River Falls, MN, that was 30 miles from home, she had to work for her lodging. She earned many scholastic awards and was chosen by the principal to be his secretary during her senior year. Hard work and natural ability gave her the training for life's challenges.
After high school, Laurie worked for a bank in Thief River. World War II had begun, and her older sister Anne, moved to San Diego. Laurie wanted to help with the war effort so she moved to San Diego in 1943. Joseph E. Rheim, President of Rohr Aircraft, recognized her extraordinary talents and hired her as his executive secretary, a position she held from 1943-1949. When the war was over, Mr. Rheim introduced her to his friend, John Hancock of Danville and Philadelphia, PA, whom she married in March 1949.
John and Laurie built and developed the John Hancock Furniture Manufacturing Company beginning in 1950. Laurie provided a strong and loving foundation for her growing family of four children. She found time to help build and expand St. John's Episcopal Church School from its original location to its current location in Chula Vista. The expansion included the addition of a middle school. She was also vitally involved in the growth of the company that became the largest rail shipper in San Diego. When John became gravely ill in 1963, Laurie took over the helm of the company. Hers was an indomitable spirit. They moved to their La Jolla oceanfront home to be closer to his doctors along with fulfilling her desire to live by the ocean.
In July 1972 she married the second love of her life, The Reverend Lawrence Heber Waddy, the Chaplain of The Bishop's School in La Jolla, where her daughter Jeanne had graduated and her daughter Julie was attending. She merged her company with Samsonite Corporation and retired in 1975.
Laurie became active in the San Diego Symphony Association. She was on the board of directors from 1973-1987 and served as president from 1976-1978. Laurie put her spark into that organization, initiating the Symphony 1000, a group of leading women in the community, and raised over one million dollars over the next few years. One of her favorite memories during her tenure as president was Danny Kaye leading the Symphony with a fly swatter! This occurred at the 50th Anniversary Gala in 1977. She also was the founding president of Mainly Mozart Festival and the Pops Concert Series. She underwrote the purchase of the concert grand piano as well as musical scholarships for students, including Gustavo Romero.
In addition to the Symphony, Laurie was active and supported the City Ballet, the San Diego Opera Guild, the La Jolla branch of the San Diego Symphony, the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, the Salvation Army Women's Auxiliary, Episcopal Community Services and Las Primeras - a chapter of Children's Home Society.
Laurie was also the founding patron of the building fund for Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in University City in 1974-1975. She endowed the Waddy Scholarship Fund for music and voice training for the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego in 1981.
She was honored by Temple Beth Israel Sisterhood as a "Woman of Valor" (Business) in 1967, The Salvation Army as a "Woman of Dedication" (Symphony) in 1979 and the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego with "The Bishop's Cross"(Humanitarian) in 1997.
Laurie impacted the lives of all who worked with her in the community and in the end left us all richer for having known her. Laurie passed away peacefully in her La Jolla home on Sunday, July 15, 2012, surrounded by her four children and dedicated caregiver, Rufina Desormeaux.
Laurie was preceded in death by her parents, five siblings, and the two great loves of her life. She is survived by her brother, Sam of Goodridge, MN; four children, Jeanne (Bill) Larson, John, James (Kristina) and Julie Bennett all of La Jolla; three step-daughters, Helena Waddy, Nerissa Wilson and Joanna Waddy; five grandchildren, Carl and Will Larson, John, Elizabeth and Michael Bennett; along with several nieces, nephews, great-nieces and nephews.
To all of Laurie's friends and family, thank you for your enduring love. Thank you to Laurie's exceptional, warm and loving caregivers and San Diego Hospice for their care and support. You are all family to us and we love you.
A Celebration of her life will be held on Wednesday, August 8, 2012, at 3:00 pm at St. James-by the-Sea Episcopal Church, La Jolla.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Waddy Fund at St. James or the scholarship fund at The Bishop's School.
Published in La Jolla Light on July 26, 2012