“Together, everyone achieves more,” is a motto Kent Lawrence lived by, Kelley Lawrence, his son, said.
It can be seen in his time on the University of Georgia football field and in his creation of the first DUI/Drug Court in 2001 — Lawrence’s life revolved around his personal and professional teammates.
“Everything was team based,” Kelley Lawrence said.
Kent Lawrence, a former Georgia football player, lawyer and judge passed away on Friday, March 13 of what his family said was a longtime illness at 72. He’s remembered by his five children, fifteen grandchildren and wife.
Although a native of Central, South Carolina, his son said “he loved Athens” as soon as he moved here in 1965 and never left. Lawrence was more than memorable on the UGA field. As a three-year letterman “who compiled offensive yards rushing, receiving and returning kicks” according to a UGA sports communications press release, he set multiple records at the time during his career.
Lawrence set the Georgia record of 9.5 seconds in the 100-yard dash during his time as a freshman, when he was part of the track team.
Lawrence recorded a 74-yard run in the 1966 Cotton Bowl, where he was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player. He rushed for a total of 149 yards, setting the Georgia bowl rushing record that had previously stood for 25 years. He was later inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame in 2003.
As a senior in 1968, he played wide receiver, catching 35 passes for 491 yards and four touchdowns, the press release said.
After his college career, Lawrence played with the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles. He earned his bachelor and master’s degrees in education from UGA.
While he left sports to attend law school, his wife Karlene Lawrence said his love of the game was something his family also shared.
“We’re SEC all the way,” Karlene Lawrence said. “That was really a big part of our life with your children. And living [in Athens] — it enabled us to be just more part of the sporting world because we were always around it.”
'Driven and determined'
Karlene and Kent Lawrence met when he was a young lawyer in Atlanta — she was 29 and he was 35. They dated, and their relationship “progressed from there.” Eventually, she moved to Athens with him, where she worked with the UGA Athletic Association in media relations.
“That was fun, because we both loved sports,” Karlene Lawrence said of their time in Athens.
While she was working at UGA, Lawrence was moving up the ranks. He became a UGA police officer, later serving as the first chief of the Athens Clarke County Police Department, and continued on to become a prosecutor and a judge.
Kelley Lawrence said he inherited his father’s strong work ethic. “You could count the number of days he missed” in his career on two hands, Kelley Lawrence said.
“He was driven and determined,” Kelley Lawrence said.
He became the State Court Judge by appointment in 1985 and was later re-elected seven times, once in a contested election and six without an opponent. During his time over the State Court, he established the Athens-Clarke County DUI/Drug Court Program, the first of its kind in Georgia.
The court focuses on DUI and drug multi-offenders, providing “meaningful treatment to participants” through continued judicial oversight, “enhanced supervision and individual accountability” according to its website.
“Our reward is to see people with addictions bind to the concept of sobriety,” Kent Lawrence said in an interview with Classic City News.
Establishing this court was consistent with Lawrence’s character — Karlene said he was a “servant at heart” in his career, through his religious faith and with friends.
“If I had to explain his life in one sentence, it was all about helping others,” Karlene Lawrence said. “If the floor needed mopping, he’d mop the floor. No service was beneath him.”
Throughout his career and after his retirement in 2011, Karlene and Kent Lawrence both avidly served in their church together. They were members of the Tuckston United Methodist Church in Athens, and took part in service every Sunday, Sunday school for their children, Wednesday night suppers and the Christian retreat Walk to Emmaus.
“It gave us a purpose in life,” Karlene Lawrence said. “He did have a purpose through work, but it gave us a personal purpose where we could do it together and help others get where they needed to go in their Christian walk of faith.”
Friends from the Walk of Emmaus gathered to honor Lawrence on March 17 in lieu of a funeral service, according to a Facebook post. The funeral service and visitation were originally scheduled for March 17, but due to COVID-19 concerns, the event was postponed. Instead, the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, ACCPD and UGA Police Department held a memorial procession which escorted Lawrence and his family throughout Athens, according to a Facebook post.
Karlene Lawrence said Kent Lawrence would’ve wanted the funeral to be canceled in the wake of the disease. She said she felt that’s something he would have asked for. That’s how he was, Karlene Lawrence said, constantly putting others before himself.
“He was very humble,” Karlene Lawrence said. “He was a very religious man and a good servant, he just had a good heart.”
The UGA Judge Kent Lawrence Football Scholarship Endowment was recently established to honor Kent Lawrence and provide future students-athletes the opportunity to compete in his honor, step daughter, Kim Costello said.
The program is collecting donations on its website.