HE was a national surf life saving star who gave a quarter of a century to ensuring the safety of Newcastle beach.
Barry Lawrence, considered one of Newcastle’s best sporting all-rounders, played a record number of rugby league games (235) in the back row for South Newcastle, was named in the club’s team of the century and featured in four grand finals within seven years for the Lions.
He was heavily involved with Newcastle Surf Life Saving Club, claiming district, NSW and national titles, swimming as part of an exhibition carnival during the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, winning the NSW Open Surf Title and being named a life member of Newcastle SLSC.
He also excelled at basketball, hockey, Australian Rules football, golf and later in life picked up lawn bowls with renewed vigour, claiming numerous titles and championships at Merewether Bowling Club during his 15 year career.
His wide-ranging sporting achievements aside, Mr Lawrence was considered a true gentleman and a proud family man who nurtured his three children Kylee, Mardi and James, and seven grandchildren Lucy, Olivia, Ben, Makayla, Amali, Sofia and Hamish with wife Dianne.
Sadly, Mr Lawrence’s health declined in recent years and he passed away on November 9 this year after a long battle with heart-related issues.
He was 74.
Born in Sydney in 1938, Mr Lawrence was the only child of Iris May Lawrence OAM and Samuel Patrick Lawrence.
Before his first birthday, the young Lawrence family made a move that would sculpt their only son’s life.
They settled in Islington and later Newcastle East, Mr Lawrence growing up in the districts of the Hunter that were then known as ‘‘The Sandhills’’.
Mr Lawrence joined Newcastle Surf Life Saving Club as a 15-year-old, a childhood pursuit that introduced him to a life on the beach, a career in the water and many life-long friendships.
Under the guidance of Alf Sergeant, Mr Lawrence trained in board races, surf races, rescue and resuscitation and belt swimming alongside Warren, Geoff and Graham Sergeant, Warren Chipchase and Bob Mason, among others.
The group became firm friends and together amassed great success, winning district and state titles together.
In 1956, as an 18-year-old, Mr Lawrence won the NSW Junior Surf Race at Freshwater Beach, which ensured his selection in the NSW team that competed at Torquay in Victoria at an exhibition carnival in conjunction with the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.
Mr Lawrence finished fourth in the junior surf race at Torquay and the NSW team won the overall tournament, claiming the title of best in the world.
Four years later, Mr Lawrence won the open men’s NSW surf race title, among ‘‘boisterous’’ surf at Crescent Head in 1960. His family remembers it as one of his favourite swims because he secured the win by catching a long range ‘‘boomer’’ from near the buoys and holding it all the way through to the beach.
During his surf life saving career, Mr Lawrence also worked at Commonwealth Steel at Mayfield, where he completed his carpentry apprenticeship.
After leaving Commonwealth Steel, he followed the sun to the Gold Coast in search of work but after two weeks away, he received a call that change his life – the job of beach inspector at Newcastle had become available. Mr Lawrence would become a mainstay on the city’s sandy stretch, working 25 consecutive summers as a council lifeguard.
He saved numerous lives during the warmer months but it was his work in winter, delivering water safety programs at Hunter schools with friend John Young, which played an important role in educating children about the dangers of the ocean.
His life-saving feats were featured in several newspapers, including the Newcastle Herald, and Mr Lawrence received letters from grateful swimmers who he had plucked from the ocean and brought to shore.
The Herald reported on what was undoubtedly the proudest moment of Mr Lawrence’s career when he rescued a four-year-old boy who had been swept off rocks in large surf.
Mr Lawrence rescued the toddler on a surfoplane so he could use the hard rubber platform and resuscitate the boy on his way back to shore.
His expertise in the water led to Mr Lawrence delivering the 2KO surf report on radio for many years.
He played 208 first-grade games for South Newcastle including four grand finals for within seven years during the 1960s, winning the decider in 1964 and 1968.
He was a proud father and father-in-law and loved nothing more than spending time with his seven grandchildren.
His passions as he grew older became watching football, swimming in the baths, playing card games with his mates over a cup of tea and having a roll at Merewether Bowling Club.
His eldest daughter Kylee described him as “truly inspirational” and said his legacy will live on.
Born: February 24, 1938.
Died: November 9, 2012.
Funeral: Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle, November 16, 2012.