In this week’s “Throwback Thursday” post, we are paying tribute to Joan Lawrence, one of PLAN’s founders. Sadly, Joan passed away earlier in July, but her memory endures through her tireless work and the many lives she helped change for the better.
The following story is about Joan, her son Keith, and their network. It was written by Sandra Shields and shared in our 2003 Newsletter. As you read “Joan & Keith Lawrence”, we invite you to celebrate the many contributions both made to building a more inclusive community.
Joan & Keith Lawrence
Keith Lawrence loves to get behind a microphone. “He’s very much a people person,” says his mother Joan, “it’s just his forte.” Keith helped with a recent United Way campaign, addressing a large audience at a fundraiser. “They don’t want to hear from me,” the coordinator told Joan. “They want Keith. They don’t understand Keith, but he can get a message across. He’s so genuine. The people are with him. He cracks a joke and everyone laughs.”
The members of Keith’s network also benefit from his outgoing nature. “He’s the one who phones everybody,” says Joan. “He phones them all, talks to them. There is a true bond between Keith and each one of his network, and the people in the network themselves have become good friends with one another.” The network holds potluck suppers twice a year, followed by a meeting. “There is no question who runs that meeting,” says Joan. “It’s Keith. He loves it.”
A few years after Keith’s network was formed, it was put to the test when Keith suffered a small stroke while Joan was travelling in China. The network rallied, doctors were consulted, and under the direction of Keith’s sister and network member, Susan, they decided they could handle the situation without tracking Joan down. When Joan got back, Keith and Susan met her at the airport. “If anything convinced me that PLAN was going to work,” says Joan, “that convinced me. That’s pretty wonderful that I could go away and they looked after everything. I have no qualms that when I’m not here the network will continue.”
In one of those twists that life brings, Joan has found Keith turning around and looking after her. “Last year I wasn’t all that well,” she says, “and he could sort of detect it in my voice. ‘Have a cup of tea mom,’ he would say. ‘Have a cup of tea.’” After a network meeting at her apartment, Joan came in from seeing people off to find the tables folded up, the dishes all cleared away. “Keith just picks up and quietly does his thing,” she says. “He’s a joy.”
Like many of the parents who founded PLAN, Joan spent decades doing advocacy work and building services. “During all these years,” says Joan, “I have never met such a fine group of people as the ones who work with people with disabilities.” She was involved in PLAN early on and served a term as President. “The work with PLAN has just been so enjoyable,” says Joan. “It’s been challenging and fun. The fact that the whole idea of networks is spreading throughout the world – that’s pretty exciting stuff.”
The changes in Keith’s life time are heartening. “I think most people with disabilities are respected today,” Joan says, “and they weren’t in the past. I think there’s been incredible progress in that area and yet there’s so much more to be done. I’d like to see more acceptance of people, more understanding. And that will only happen through involvement.”
For Joan, the results of involvement have been far reaching. “I just can’t imagine what my life would have been without Keith,” she says, “not nearly so exciting and exhilarating. I think it would have been quite dull without Keith in it. He’s taught me to be a better human being, a more caring human being than I ever was before.”