Opp’s Own: I’m the luckiest man on Earth

Published 12:01 am Saturday, May 12, 2012

Lt. Col. James Lawrence, who was named Opp’s Own, spoke at Thursday night’s Chamber banquet.


He’s the luckiest man on the face of the Earth, or at least that’s how James Lawrence, Opp’s Own, described himself at Thursday’s annual Chamber of Commerce banquet.

Lawrence, a member of the class of 1965, grew up in a seven-children family of sharecroppers-turned-farmers who instilled in their children the importance of receiving a good education.

“My parents taught us that there was more than farming, and that with a good education we could reach higher,” he said.

Lawrence said his older siblings went to business school and provided a good example for him.

Lawrence noted many throughout the “City of Opportunity” who helped him gain opportunities throughout the years.

Lawrence’s neighbor, Fob Ward, who was a World War II veteran, told him stories of his perils in North Africa.

“It sounded exciting to me,” he said. “He perhaps planted the seed for the military.”

Another was Opp High School principal James Lawrence Nolen.

“He expected more of me because I was his namesake,” Lawrence said. “I was expected to do well. I learned not to challenge him.”

Lawrence shared stories of how Nolen contributed to his attitude and respect for those in authority.

Next, Dr. Vernon St. John, who served as OCS superintendent, gave him inspiration.

“I was in awe of his education credentials,” Lawrence said. “St. John had a vision and it was contagious. I learned a lot about the impact you can have on a place.”

Opp High School guidance counselor Joe Baxley may have paved the way the most for Lawrence’s life.

“He asked me if I had a plan for college,” Lawrence said. “I told him, I had no money and no plan. He told me to go to college, and he was going to help. I got a government loan and a job on campus at Troy.”

The final person he mentioned was coach Thomas Walls.

“I was a mediocre player, and he believed in me enough to help me develop the hand and eye coordination needed to be a pilot,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence also mentioned Virginia Purvis, Lloyd Crook, Janelle Kelsoe, Ann Cowen and Jim Johnson. These teachers instilled things like English literature, a love of writing, math, typing and more into his life – things he would later use in his U.S. Air Force career.

“All of these people contributed to a mosaic of success,” he said.

Lawrence graduated from Troy and entered the Air Force with a commissioned rank and worked his way up to lt. colonel.

Through his nearly 27-year career in the military, Lawrence logged more than 2 million miles; set a world record for transcontinental flights, flew a mission to attempt rescue of American hostages in Iran, was handpicked for a highly-classified organization to deal with response to international terrorism in the U.S. and now works part-time as a subcontractor at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss.

Lawrence said he had the opportunity to see an amazing site, while flying at 47,000 feet in an Air Fore jet – the Earth’s curvature.

“It was a sight reserved for the astronauts,” he said. “Those who have influenced me, have helped me soar.”

Also honored at the chamber banquet were:

• Teacher of the year: Brenda Dauphin;

• Spirit of Opportunity: Kenneth Short;

• Business of the year: J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop;

• Hall of Fame: Fletcher Franklin Jones and Thomas Pelham Winston.