A lifelong love of animals made James Cameron Lawrence's work as a veterinarian both a career and a lifestyle choice. Lawrence, who went by his middle name rather than his first, opened an animal hospital in Sanford in 1960; worked for more than 50 years as the Sanford Orlando Kennel Club's vet; and volunteered for many years at the Sanford Zoo, now the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens.
"He was a veterinarian for all the right reasons," said his wife, Peggy Smith Lawrence. "He never placed an emphasis on the money. He was like the old-timey, family-type of doctor."
Lawrence died of congestive heart failure in his wife's arms May 12. He was 80.
He was born in Birmingham, Ala., and grew up in Montgomery and Mobile. According to a story his mother told his wife, his animal doctoring began at a very early age — 6 or 7 — when he operated on a chicken and sewed it back together with needle and thread.
As soon as he graduated from high school, Lawrence joined the Marines as the Korean War heated up. He was a member of the Marine Corps boxing team while in the service.
When he was discharged from the military, he went to veterinary school at Alabama Polytechnic Institute, now Auburn University, and graduated in 1958. He was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and it was a frat brother who set him up on a blind date with the coed he would later marry.
His wife said that, although it was not love at first sight on that blind date, the two constantly ran into each other afterward, and so it seemed they were destined to be together. They would have been married 55 years in June.
While at Auburn, Lawrence was on the wrestling and tennis teams. He remained active as a runner and tennis player for many years, competing and placing in track events at Sanford's annual Golden Age Games.
While still a student, Lawrence did a veterinary internship with a doctor in Lakeland and decided to move to Florida. He worked for the Lakeland vet until he found a position with a Sanford vet he thought was close to retiring, but after two years he decided to strike out on his own, opening Lawrence Veterinary Hospital in Sanford.
In the early years, he worked on animals large and small — until he had to leave a waiting room full of patients to save a calf that was choking on a grapefruit it had swallowed, at which point he decided he couldn't do both and began focusing on small animals.
His first year in business is also when he took the job as veterinarian for the Sanford greyhound racing track.
According to his wife, life at home was much the same as life at work: filled with animals. There were always collections of cats, dogs, birds and fish, plus the occasional unusual house guest, such as the deer the couple raised in the house. Lawrence would use his college-wrestling moves to contain the family emu when it fell sick so his wife could insert a tube down its throat to dispense the medicine, and the baby leopard he brought home ended up having a cleft pallet, which he and a pediatric surgeon repaired.
Lawrence closed his veterinary hospital in the late 1980s but continued to work at the dog track until 2005.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by son Jim Lawrence of Sanford; daughters Cathy Jones of Sanford, Janie Marshall of Sanford and Beth Corino of Lake Mary; three grandchildren; and one great granddaughter.
Arrangements are being handled by Gramkow Funeral Home & Crematory in Sanford.
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