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William Larry Colvin


1946 - 2017 Obituary Condolences
William Larry Colvin Obituary
January 13, 1946 - December 1, 2017 William Larry Colvin of Chino Hills, a decorated Army officer and health care executive who modernized the landscape of Cedars-Sinai, has died. His life defied categorization. Colvin - who went by "Larry" - was a military man and a progressive liberal. He was a sports car enthusiast who did not consider it un-masculine to get the occasional manicure. Colvin often remarked that he was living on borrowed time, having survived 21 years stationed in some of the most dangerous places on earth. He lost his final battle to prostate cancer on Dec. 1, 2017, at 71. Colvin was born on Jan. 13, 1946, in Warren, Arkansas, to William Wentz Colvin, a master plumber, and Lena Ione Colvin. He was thrust into a leadership role when he was just 9 years old: His father died in a car accident and Colvin took on the mantle of the man of the house, looking after four younger siblings. "Larry had the virtues of small-town America: sincerity, serenity and integrity. The absence of glibness and his artless decency became an asset," said longtime friend and colleague Thomas D. Gordon, consultant to the president of Cedars-Sinai. Colvin's distillation of honesty and courage protected him when he arrived in Vietnam in 1968 as a U.S. Army first lieutenant with the Airborne Rangers, a branch of Special Operations. He was military adviser to a camp of 600 Vietnamese Montagnard hills tribesmen and made it a point to dine with the village elders and drink their rice wine. This established a lifelong habit of breaking bread with people to earn their trust. (He joked the practice worked equally well on terrorists in Lebanon and health system executives.) The Montagnards named Colvin "bay cop," meaning seven tigers, for his unflinching bravery. Colvin served four tours of duty in Vietnam, returning because he wished to help the people he had come to love and respect. He visited the country every six months for 25 years to fund and sustain two hospitals in Da Nang, including the Women's Cancer Hospital, where he served on the board. Colvin privately supported Vietnamese families living in Los Angeles, even sending one young man to college. "It wasn't the tangible things, it was the respect he gave people that mattered the most," said his nephew Jared Colvin. "It didn't matter who you were or what your background was, he would really talk with you." After the cease-fire in Vietnam, Colvin completed a Bachelor of Arts at the University of New Mexico in 1975 and became the first in his family to achieve a college degree. While at school, Colvin met and married his beloved wife, Susan. Colvin's appetite for adventure would not be slaked by married life. During two separate tours of duty from 1981 to 1986, he worked for the U.S. State Department in the Middle East as part of the peacekeeping United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). Keeping the peace was a treacherous job: When Colvin first arrived in Lebanon, he said there were 139 terrorist and militia factions in that country alone. As a Middle East/North Africa foreign area officer, he led investigations of terrorist incidents and violations of cease-fire agreements, negotiated prisoner exchanges, and brokered compromises with government and faction leaders. The Middle East felt far more dangerous than Vietnam ever did. "There were too many enemies, too many factions," he said in a 2014 interview. Colvin's second tour saw him take charge of UNTSO. As commander of the United Nations Military Observer Group in the Middle East and chief of Observer Group Lebanon, his work improved U.S. and U.N. relations throughout the contentious region. Colvin received numerous medals for valor and service, but the award he valued the most was the Defense Superior Service Medal for his work in the Middle East. "Even though the cease-fires were often fleeting, it was rewarding to get prisoners released and bring peace, even momentarily," he said. In Lebanon in 1985, Colvin was kidnapped by the South Lebanese Army. The intensely risky nature of his work was not lost on Susan, whom he credited for saving his life through an ultimatum: find a new job or find a new wife. Colvin retired from the Army in 1989, having earned the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Between military stints, Colvin had received a master's degree in health administration from Central Michigan University. He spent nine years working for the County of Los Angeles in leadership roles before he landed at Cedars-Sinai. During his 17-year tenure as Cedars-Sinai's vice president of Facilities Planning, Design and Construction, Colvin led $2.7 billion dollars-worth of capital projects. "Superman was known to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Larry built big buildings in a single bound," Gordon said. Colvin's work touched nearly every building on the hospital campus, through renovation or expansion. He developed and oversaw the construction of the crown jewel of the medical center, the Advanced Health Sciences Pavilion, an 820,000-square-foot project that he brought in $130 million under budget. "Larry would have been a good individual whether he was a military officer or not," said Ronald Jakaitis, a retired Army major and friend. "He was not at all afraid of consequences, good or bad. He knew he needed to do the right thing." Colvin served on the boards of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Fire Department and the Pacific Council on International Policy. Colvin is survived by his wife of 42 years, Susan C. Colvin. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai, Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Fire Department Foundation.
Published in the Los Angeles Times from Dec. 19 to Dec. 20, 2017
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