A Man of Many Talents

Veteran and former lawyer, volunteer, and mayor settles on role as author
By Rodger Nichols

Steve Lawrence stands in front of a wall of books in his den. Behind him is his collection of 178 books either by or about his literary hero, Ernest Hemingway.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observation, “There are no second acts in American lives,” certainly doesn’t apply to Steve Lawrence, who has enjoyed several successful careers. Among other things, this native of The Dalles is a Vietnam combat veteran, was a lawyer for 30 years, a volunteer for United Cerebral Palsy for 25 years, and a former mayor of The Dalles for six years. He is now an author, busy wrapping up final edits on his second book and starting a third.

In a way, Steve has come full circle. He originally set out to be an author, majoring in writing and journalism.

But life intervened. Along the way, he gained experience that he has put to good use. His first book, “First Light,” was published in 2014. It drew heavily on a journal he kept in Vietnam and was a novelization of his experiences.

Steve says his tour was a tough one. He saw plenty of combat.

A cabinet in his den displays his service memorabilia, including a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with V indicating valor in combat, and a cluster indicating the award of a second Bronze Star. The Silver Star is the third-highest award for gallantry just below the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.

After returning home from Vietnam, Steve completed his undergraduate degree. He was looking at an advanced degree when a series of events lead to his unplanned path to become a lawyer.

“I got a scholarship to a master’s program at Portland State, and a guy offered me a job in the marketing department at TriMet,” he says. “I don’t know why, but I just thought, ‘I need to take that.’ Well, it changed my life because I met a guy who was the assistant to the general manager. One day he came to me and said, ‘I’m going to take the LSAT (law school admission test). Would you like to take it with me?’”

On display in his home are three of Steve’s medals: Silver Star medals on the ends and a Bronze Star Medal with “V” for valor in the center.

Steve had two years of the GI Bill left, and thought it was a good move to make.

“And so we got the book, and the book was huge,” Steve says. “He said, ‘I’m not doing this,’ and I said, ‘Well, I paid 50 bucks. I’m gonna do it.’ So I took it, got a good score, applied to Lewis and Clark night school, and got accepted. Next thing I know, I’m out and clerking for a law firm.”

The firm offered him a job, and he liked the challenge of trial work.

“You know, it’s kind of the gunfighter thing,” Steve says. “You go in there and be faster on your feet, think fast, and take on your opponent. I felt like I was on the right side, always representing injured parties.”

As he moved back to The Dalles and began winding down his 30-year legal career, Steve developed an interest in local politics.

“I feel like when I decided to run for office, that everything in my life had actually prepared me for that,” he says.

He served on several boards, including the national board of United Cerebral Palsy.

One of the local boards on which he served was for Civic Auditorium.

“The city had put $880,000 in the Civic, and one day I heard they had bought the Granada,” Steve says. “So I went over and I inquired, ‘Why are you doing this? Why don’t you finish the Civic?’ They said, ‘We can’t tell you. It’s all in executive session.’”

He says no matter how much he tried, he could not get answers.

“I felt like they were violating the open meeting law,” he says. “So I decided to file so I could debate the current mayor on that issue. A week before the deadline, that mayor announced he wasn’t going to run and I was unopposed.”

Steve served three terms as mayor.

“I think the wastewater plant is my biggest achievement,” he says. “At my very first meeting, they were going to take bonds out for nine years and raise the rates 10% every year. We suspended all of that and got a new contract. We did it on design-build. We built it bigger than originally planned. We have captured the methane, which wasn’t in the original plan. We did it all on our own dollar and didn’t have to raise rates once.”

Though Steve enjoyed his stint as mayor, stepping down last year gave him much more time to write.

His second book, “Amazon Field,” will be available on Amazon this fall. Set in The Dalles, it tells the story of a teenager who notices a bone protruding from the earth where workers had been digging a sewer trench. The teen unearths a whole human skeleton, and a mystery ensues.

The story is based on a real incident in Steve’s life.

Steve says he is having a great deal of fun in his latest incarnation.

“I think that my decision to come back to The Dalles was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” he says. “I got to come home, I got to marry my high school sweetheart, I got to be mayor and I got to be around a community that I absolutely love.”