James LeFevour – USA
To hear Tim Boyd tell it, it just sounds like stories from his youth, but at the age of nineteen he met and befriended a profound person in Chicago who would become his teacher for decades. Theosophy idealizes people like the person Tim describes, people who give everything they have to the cause of bettering the world and benefiting the people in it, yet we seldom hear their names. You will not find Bill Lawrence’s story written in Theosophical archives, yet he was a true Theosophist by any definition.
Tim Boyd portrays Bill Lawrence as a man with immense spiritual presence, but also as a charming individual with welcoming charisma. When asked about when they first met, Tim describes a time when he was a student on vacation from Brown University. His cousin, Barrett, was the one who first introduced Tim and “the Old Man” which is how Bill Lawrence’s students affectionately referred to him. Tim describes sitting with his cousin and several other young people in Chicago as they waited in Lawrence’s house just to see him.
“I was waiting to see who this guy was, because he had been built up as ‘the Old Man.’ I thought it was going to be somebody intensely grey, one of those stereotypical wise-man types, but this guy was actually quite dapper. He was an old man to us, but at that time he would have been only 54 years old. Old guy!
“When he came down, he was quite charismatic. He talked about various things, and it was one of those situations in which the person you sit down with is the focus of the conversation. I think there were five or six of us there, because a couple of people studied with him regularly, but it was the Old Man’s show. He hit on a bunch of different subjects. He said something about the use of recreational drugs and what people were using at that time, and I had an opinion about that so I spoke up about my opinion. Then he looked at me, and people always hear about piercing eyes, but he really had piercing eyes. He looked at me, and he just kind of smiled.”
In that meeting, a lifetime student-teacher bond was made. Even though Tim says he didn’t know it immediately, apparently Bill Lawrence knew it. Tim and his cousin spent a few hours talking about Theosophy with the Old Man before they got up to leave. Tim recalls quite well the significance of that parting:
“We were getting ready to go and he walked us to the door. I said the standard farewell: ‘Bye, thanks. It’s been nice seeing you.’ Then he looked at me and he said, ‘I’ll see you soon, son,’ which struck me as a little odd. When he told me that, I said, ‘Probably not. You probably won’t see me too soon, because I’m leaving very early in the morning.’ It was partly my concept of fact and partly a little nineteen-year-old arrogance or hubris that popped up.’ He didn’t change though; he just looked at me the same way with a bit of a smile. He said ‘I’ll see you soon, son.’ And we walked out.”
Tim explains that even though this was the first time for him to sit and talk in the Old Man’s house, it was a common occurrence for Bill Lawrence to speak with the youth in the neighborhood. In fact, several years earlier, Lawrence purchased a large house in one of the worst neighborhoods of Chicago, and then he invited the local youth gang to come and meet at his house.
“Chicago at that time was really embroiled in a lot of gang violence. You could say parts of the city are still that way now, but back then it was probably even worse because you had whole neighborhoods that were controlled by teenagers with guns. They really were quite organized. The house that the Old Man lived in was right where three of these major gang turfs met. He started to have meetings at his home, not just for one individual gang, but for all of them together. These were guys who, if they saw each other on the street outside the old man’s house, would have been in fights, there would have been shots, there would have been something going on. And yet they would all come to his house, and they would meet, and he would talk to them.
“Basically the Old Man talked to the gang members just about Theosophy, though not in any terms that anybody at the Theosophical Society would use. He would talk to them about karma, and he would use the example of an apple seed and an apple. He would say, ‘If you plant an apple seed, what do you get? You get an apple tree and then you get an abundance of apple fruit. You guys around here are planting seeds of violence, pain, and injury. What do you think you are getting out of that?’ And they started to kind of get it.
“Eventually the police noticed that, for whatever reason, things in the hottest spot of the city were dying down. I met a lot of those guys. A lot of them ended up being quite good friends of mine and still are to this day. They were just natural-born leaders. As teenagers they headed up two, three, or four hundred member gangs, and all those gang members looked to them for marching orders. They were old souls, for whatever reason, incarnated into a situation with no direction. But when they met Bill, a lot of them got a direction and decided that, instead of being like the baddest guy on the block, they were going to be more like ambassadors of peace. That was a bigger challenge. So they said, ‘We're going to cool it down around here,’ and a lot of them just started to go out and spread that as the message. As a result, it cooled down.”
It is obvious that Bill Lawrence was no normal man. That is not just because he curbed the gang violence in Chicago or even because he took those responsible and molded them into altruistic members of the community. The reason Lawrence was so unique is that he was doing this all intentionally, following a plan. He was guided to purchase the house and to change that community as he did, just as he was guided in many other ways since he had embraced life as an occultist.
Bill Lawrence’s life had not been an easy one. Being born with gifts did not make it easy for him to grow up, especially in some closed-minded communities. And for a good part of his young life he tried hard to make an identity for himself that was one of his choosing, and not one that was just assigned to him. Tim Boyd delves into some of Lawrence’s early experiences growing up:
“As I came to understand it, he grew up in central Illinois in a little town called Georgetown, next to Danville. His father was a coal miner named John Lawrence, who was half British and half Native American; his mother was Leona, and she was half Native American and half African-American. His father looked like he was European, and his mother really looked like she was Black. When you put these two together you got Bill Lawrence, but to look at him he could have been Italian or Egyptian or black Irish; he could have been a lot of different things, he could have been Native American. Black is not what you would have thought, but that was how he identified.
“Bill Lawrence was a peculiar child because apparently he was one of those kids who are born clairvoyant. I remember hearing Dora Kunz talk about how some children are born with a flap of skin that comes down over the face like a veil, typically they remove this, but she said there was this old wives tale that this is a sign that they have second sight. Dora was born with this cowl, and Bill Lawrence was also born with a cowl. His older sister lived with us for a while; her name was Velma, but we called her ‘Sis.’ She described all the trouble he used to get into because of his clairvoyance. Velma was also quite clairvoyant, but nothing like Bill. In his time, kids were supposed to be seen and not heard. When Bill was a child, various people would come into the house, and he would describe things about them that weren’t supposed to be known. He would just say it, and then they’d always punish him. Back then, as punishment, you would get a beating; and he got more beatings than his share.
“Velma and Bill once talked about how one time a woman came in whom none of them liked, and he said, ‘Oh, I see that she’s going to get her breast caught in a wringer.’ Back then they used hand-cranked wringers to help dry washed clothes. Sure enough, the talk among the women later was about how Molly had been drying clothes, and she was bent over, and her breast got caught in this wringer, and it was a painful experience.
“Then they described a time when someone came in and he said, ‘Oh, she's going to die. There’s black around her. She's going to die.’ They said to young Bill, ‘Shut up! You can't talk!’ Sure enough though, the woman did die. He would see all these things. He got some images of himself from past lives, one of which was like some sort of preacher. Then he would get all the kids together and he would start preaching to them. When he was preaching, he said that, because he thought he had long coattails on, he’d be hitting his hand against these coattails while he preached. And all the kids would listen to Bill spinning these new stories and preaching to them.
“One day Bill told his father, ‘You know, I'm not from here. I'm from Tibet.’ In the early part of the twentieth century in central Illinois, nobody knew what Tibet was. He said that he caused so much trouble in his family that his father really started to study, and became quite a deep occultist from having to study just to try and understand this child.
Ever since he was born, Bill Lawrence had been naturally gifted, though it wasn’t until the day he chose to fully embrace his capabilities and bring them under his control for the betterment of all beings that he began to grow spiritually as fully as he did. And even after that, only in discovering Theosophy, did Bill find a body of teachings that spoke to the forces that had been moving him his entire life. As Tim Boyd explains of his teacher, when Bill Lawrence first came to the Theosophical Society in Wheaton, he felt as if he had finally come home.
In a letter Bill Lawrence wrote to Tim shortly after their first meeting, he stated in the first few lines: “When the student is ready, the teacher is never found wanting.” Lawrence proceeded in his letter to invite a teen-aged Tim Boyd to come and stay at the house and learn what he had to teach him for a three month break from college. Boyd, a young man who had never even heard the word meditation before meeting Lawrence, immediately packed his bags. His mind was set.
The intention of the Old Man was to cram three years of spiritual training into three months, which was fine news at the time for the eager and astute Tim Boyd. What ended up happening is, however, even more profound. Tim Boyd never went back to Brown University. In his own words, he says, “That was where I would spend the next twenty to thirty years of my life.”
As many know, those experiences led Tim Boyd to become the national president of the Theosophical Society in America as well as to be nominated for the international presidency. Tim Boyd currently serves on the same campus that Bill Lawrence found so captivating when he first learned of the Theosophical Society.
What is also particularly of interest to many who know Tim well, and have read the description he gives of his mentor, Bill Lawrence, is the striking similarities of the qualities they both share. There are certainly physical qualities such as the piercing eyes, but there is also a nature of presence that is appropriately similar. Many have commented that Tim Boyd carries about him a warm yet intense atmosphere. Whether in a crowd or in a personal audience alone with him, a welcoming and sincere energy permeates those who are privy to it. The reason for bringing up that fact here is that it testifies to the strength of a teacher-student relationship, and to the Theosophical belief that those in these positions of influence do not get there without earlier lifetimes leading up to it.
Tim Boyd has done a few articles and lectures on the Old Man, but surely there is room for more. The reason Theosophical Societies celebrate such worthy Theosophists and past leaders is both to remind others of the Theosophical mission and the means by which it is accomplished in so many different cultures and walks of life. Bill Lawrence is exceptional. How fortunate we all are to learn from his great example.