Lawrence William Dean Jr.

Individualistic, compassionate, enthusiastic, and cooperative, he was a problem solver and always ready to pitch in.

It wasn’t lost on his family that Lawrence died on a “palindrome day”, December 2nd, 2021 (the date typed out 12022021 reads the same forwards and backwards) which also happens to be an ambigram (reads the same right-side up and upside down, especially in a digital clock-type font), that was just his kind of thing. If you ever met Lawrence and you hung around for a few minutes you were probably treated, without knowing it, to a physics lesson, or a quick guide to the wonders of astronomy, or reminded of the beauty of cloud formations. If he was in a particular mood, he might recite a hymn or poetry (sometimes in German). He read the bible in Greek and in English and his many copies have underlines and notations such as, “not in original text” when changes were found. He loved a good joke but wasn’t above a bad joke (saying, “Sorry, that’s a TERRIBLE joke”). His favorite color was around 660nm – “red”, but he preferred to tell you the wavelength for precision.

Teacher, storyteller, telescope builder, avid hiker. Born September, 27th 1936, he grew up the son of a farmer/pharmacist and hardworking “farmer’s wife” in Michigan. From an early age he loved adventure, hopping box cars with his favorite cousin, traveling “far away” (to the next town) and then hopping another train back home in time for dinner. Lawrence attained his Bachelor’s in Chemistry, Magna Cum Laude, from Adrian College in 1959 and his Master’s in Biochemistry, from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1961. He met his first wife and mother of his children at U of M. A fellow chemist, and outdoorswoman, they set out to start a family, adventure together, and teach themselves mountaineering (cobbling together just enough equipment to “look like we knew what we were doing”). Early in his scientific career he found his passion in teaching and spent most of the rest of his career as a physics and chemistry teacher as well as running hiking clubs, months-long telescope building workshops, and summer research projects for high school students. He was devoted to his students and kept in touch with many of them as they progressed through their careers. He was forced to retire from teaching high school earlierthan planned (preferring to “die in the line of duty”) due to hearing loss coupled with sudden blindness in one eye, but continued to teach well after retirement, tutoring adults in mathematics and English.

Described as individualistic, compassionate, enthusiastic, and cooperative, he was a problem solver and always ready to pitch in. In the late 1960s he was involved with the anti-war movement in Berkeley, CA, and later numerous environmental and human rights efforts. In the early 1970s he helped found a commune on a 1200-acre property in northern California near the southern end of the Cascade Range where he built an off-the-grid cabin (in modern lingo, a “tiny house”) with hand tools and the help of many friends. He loved good food and was in awe of anyone that had a mastery of spices, a skill that eluded him. He had a gift for working with flour and built himself a traditional dough trough where he’d lovingly knead his Sunday batch of six, “two-pound” loaves – four whole wheat and two (much coveted) cinnamon-raisin to last out the week. He quizzed his children on their times tables while frying massive batches of yeast-risen doughnuts (“How many doughnuts is 12 dozen?…”) and nurtured them with countless bowls of chicken and “dumpling” soup, consisting mostly of home-grown veggies and stout, hand-cut noodles.Although his children weren’t homeschooled, teaching opportunities were never lost (dressing a deer was also a detailed anatomy lesson). He was a storyteller and reader extraordinaire and read and told stories to his children every night by the light of a kerosene lantern.

Lawrence moved to Vashon in 2014 at the prodding of his daughter, Willow. At first he was hesitant but soon said of Vashon, “This is the only place I’ve ever felt like I’m home”. He discovered his love of Cajun music at “The COOP!” and would later exclaim that it was a religious experience. He could often be seen with his trekking poles, walking in town and further afield, almost always with a friend or three. He spent many afternoons planted in front of the stage at the farmer’s market, soaking in the music (“Wow, live music!”) and watching intrepid dancers. Before the death of his dear friend Eileen Carlson, they could be found together at Granny’s looking for the best deals, or out enjoying the sun and people watching. He loved riding the buses on Vashon and in Seattle, asserting, “You can see the world, and you always meet interesting people on the bus”. He loved people and in his final days he said though he had no regrets and no “bucket list”, he would have loved to have visited Calcutta just to be around so many people at once.

More than two years have passed since Lawrence left us. It feels simultaneously like a lifetime ago and the blink of an eye. If you are like me and still look for him on occasion, listen to some live music, smile at a stranger, enjoy a good meal with friends, or look up at the sky. He is in all of those things. You can see him in viewing his favorite phase of the moon, the waxing crescent –at once clear and crisp with a tantalizing sliver of detail but containing so much more to be revealed.