Airline pioneer Harding Lawrence dies

DALLAS, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- A private family service is planned Sunday for Harding L. Lawrence, an airline pioneer who turned Braniff Airways into a leading world-class carrier. He died Wednesday at the age of 81 at his home in Mustique, St. Vincent, West Indies.

Lawrence died after a battle with pancreatic cancer.


His innovative ideas for enhancing passenger comfort and enjoyment helped turn Braniff, a conservative regional airline based in Dallas, into the eighth-largest airline in North America.

Lawrence became president and chief executive officer of Braniff in April 1965. Before he retired in December 1980 as chairman and CEO, the airline was operating on four continents with 110 aircraft and revenues of more than $1.5 billion.

His first steps at Braniff were to transition a primarily piston-engined fleet to an all-jet operation, and to make passenger service and flight operations competitive with the largest airlines, while aggressively seeking new routes in South America as well as North America.

The new Braniff was billed as "The End of the Plain Plane" and the airliners were painted in bright solid colors in contrast to the aluminum and white livery of most airlines. Flight attendants were dressed in haute couture creations by famed designer Emilio Pucci.


Braniff filed for bankruptcy in May 1982.

Lawrence was born in Perkins, Okla., on July 15, 1920, where his father was a pastor. He grew up in Gladewater, Texas, where his mother later owned and operated a small hotel. He attended Kilgore Junior College and graduated from the University of Texas.

Lawrence was assistant director of the No. 1 British Flying Training School in Terrell, Texas, from 1942 to 1944 during World War II and served two years in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

After the war, he joined Essair (later Pioneer Airlines) as assistant to the vice president of operations while continuing his education at night at South Texas College of Law in Houston where he received his law degree in 1949.

Lawrence was promoted to general traffic and sales manager for Pioneer in 1947 and then vice president in 1948. Pioneer merged with Continental Airlines in 1955 and Lawrence was named vice president of traffic and sales for the larger airline with its headquarters in Denver.

Robert Six, the founder and chairman of Continental, was quoted as saying, "One of the reasons Continental merged with Pioneer was so I could get Harding." During his 10 years at Continental, including the last seven as executive vice president, the airline grew by over 500 percent.


A private family service was planned in Mustique on Sunday.

Lawrence was survived by his wife, Mary Wells Lawrence, five children, and seven grandchildren.

The Lawrence family requests no flowers. Donations would be appreciated by the following: The Mustique Primary School, Mustique, St. Vincent, W.I.; The School for Children with Special Needs, Fernside, Kingstown, St. Vincent, W.I.; Bequia Sunshine School for Children, Box 1, Port Elizabeth, Bequia, St. Vincent, W.I., and to Dr. Yuman Fong's program to develop a successful therapy for pancreatic cancer. Checks should be made out to: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, c/o Dr. Lewis Freedman, Director of Research programs, Department of Surgery, 1275 York Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10021.

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