Frank Lawrence, owner of Augusta’s Bobby Jones Ford dealership and past owner of two Augusta professional sports teams, died Monday. He was 71.
Coroner Grover Tuten confirmed the death and said it was from natural causes.
William S. Morris III, the publisher of The Augusta Chronicle and chairman and chief executive officer of Morris Communications Co., said Lawrence was an energetic businessman and a good citizen devoted to improving his community.
“He was civic-minded and wanted the best for Augusta,” said Morris, who briefly was a co-owner with Lawrence of the Augusta Lynx ice hockey team. “He put his time and energy into everything he did, and he was a fine citizen. He will be missed.”
Lawrence served on the board of the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association and was known as a capable businessman, said Will Schafer, the owner of Master Buick GMC in Augusta.
“One of the things about Frank was, I don’t think I ever heard anyone say anything bad about him,” Shafer said. “He will really be missed.”
Lawrence’s son and namesake, Frank “Bud” Lawrence II, once told the Chronicle that his father might never have moved to Augusta had it not been for a stranger he met on the way to Daytona Beach, Fla.
His son said in a newspaper interview that his father had proposed opening a new Ford dealership in Birmingham, Ala. But Ford turned it down. Instead, the company suggested that he buy Bobby Jones Ford in Augusta.
On his way to the Daytona 500, the older Lawrence stopped at a gas station in Florida and ran into someone with Richmond County tags. He and the stranger struck up a conversation. It helped convince him he should take the deal.
A native of Nashville, Tenn., Lawrence said he began selling cars to feed his family.
“I graduated from college and went to work for Carnation Co., calling on supermarkets and grocery store chains,” he said in a 1999 interview. “I was working for less than $500 a month, trying to feed a family of five. Got an ad that said, ‘Do you want to earn $1,000 a month?’ I knew I needed $1,000 a month to feed my family, so I went to work selling automobiles. I’ll never forget my mother’s comment to me: ‘You know you’ve got a college degree and you’re going to sell used cars?’ ”
He was good at it.
Beginning in Alabama in 1967, he rose to become a sales manager, finance manager and then a sales consultant. He opened a Toyota dealership in 1974, sold it and bought a Cadillac dealership in 1981, which he sold 10 years later.
In 1991, he bought Bobby Jones Ford.
A college football player at Middle Tennesee State University, Lawrence later owned the Augusta Stallions, an arena football league team.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.