Remembering Randal Lawson: The Conductor

Dr. Margaret Quiñones-Perez sat silently for a moment at her post on the board of trustees, with her mouth poised at the microphone. She took a breath and began to tell a story. She recalled a time when she confessed to a colleague that she longed to be a young and carefree student, when she and her friends would bounce into a van and ride to local taquerias. The colleague she confessed this to immediately jumped up, and said, “So let’s go!” Though he donned a business suit and tie, and a personality perhaps older than someone in their twenties, he had the youthful excitement of a teenager as he climbed into a van, inviting Dr. Quiñones-Perez to join him for some tacos.

The Santa Monica College Board of Trustees member recalled this moment with a certain fondness and a twinkle in her eyes, thinking about a man who was always youthful in heart and mind, as well as a warm-hearted professional .

The professor, mentor, compatriot she recalled was former Santa Monica College Executive Vice President and Chief Instructional Officer Randal “Randy” Lawson.

After dedicating 35 years of his heart and services to SMC, students, faculty and administration alike, were stunned and saddened to hear of his sudden death on August 19th, 2014. He was 66.

Before he became Executive Vice President on January 1, 2005, he was first an avid lover of music. After receiving his bachelors in music from Oklahoma City University, he earned a Masters in music at USC. Piano being his love and forte, he became a piano soloist and performed in music recitals throughout Southern California.

In 1979, Lawson joined the SMC community as the Music Department Chair and began a journey towards furthering students not only in music, but also in academic life at SMC as a whole. He served on numerous academic boards including the Administrative Dean of Academic Personnel, V.P. of Academic Affairs, and President of Academic Senate to name a few.

Aside from being highly committed to SMC administration and the inner workings of the college, Lawson made a concentrated effort in advancing the school's education and instruction standards.

Serving as the Chief Instructional Officer, Lawson lead the way in developing curriculum for SMC's Academy of Entertainment and Technology, helping create SMC's High School Dual Enrollment Program, and coordinating the Arts Mentor Program. His heavy involvement at SMC over the years earned him numerous awards applauding his leadership skills and administrative excellence.

Commendations for his level of merit and endless lists of involvement with the school over his 35-year-long employment have been noted. Though this list may sound like a thorough and extraordinarily impressive resume, it calls to mind how many people have come to know Lawson and have been touched by his friendship and admirable professionalism.

It is Lawson's absence on these numerous boards (past and present) and on campus that is missed, as well as his knowledgeable presence that so many of his colleagues valued and admired.

At the first board of trustees meeting of the fall semester, on Tuesday September 2, the board members conducted a moment of silence for the passing of their treasured friend and colleague. Behind his name placard sat a blooming bouquet of flowers with a floral aroma that comforted the board members who were deeply affected by the empty chair at the end of the panel.

Members of the board, with the exception of SMC President Dr. Chui Tsang, each made a few statements to express what losing Lawson personally meant to them.

Student Daniel Kolko said, "His presence and dedication to students' rights...will forever be missed, but will forever stay present at this college."

In recalling Lawson's level of professionalism and his endless knowledge about the college, being a part of the community for so long, board member Dr. Louise Jaffe said, "I feel like I've lost my own personal community college wikipedia."

Board member Dr. Nancy Greenstein mentioned that Lawson was so important to so many people, and that though he is no longer with us, "they still feel the spirit of Randy here."

He is described by board member Vice Chair Rob Rader as the "behind the scenes" man, and the school's spirit of excellence, professionalism and efficiency that still remains. Rader goes further to describe Lawson as a character of humility and humbleness, as he did so much and called so little attention to his efforts.

In an official state made to the SMC public relations department, Dr. Tsang said, "Randy was a mentor and adviser to so many members of the college community. He was an excellent listener who always expressed care for others and the concerns that were brought to him."

A school memorial service will be held on Wednesday, September 17, 4pm at the Broad Stage. Current Vice President of Academic Affairs, Jeff Shimizu will be serving as interim Executive Vice President of Santa Monica College.

Lawson is survived by his sister Regina Yates, brother-in-law Howard and nephew Tyler. In lieu of flowers, Lawson's family asks the public to donate to a scholarship established in his name and memory. The family will also be contributing to the scholarship and plans to donate Lawson's grand piano to the SMC Music Department.

The Board of Trustees each smiled at Dr. Quiñonez-Perez calling Randal Lawson "The Conductor", and this perhaps, is a rather perfect nick-name for him.

A conductor is the key piece of an orchestra that unifies the performers in perfect ways to create beautiful music. His position in the front of the orchestra can sometimes be overlooked in contrast to the dozens of violins, trumpets, french horns and oboes. And though it does not seem that this single character does more than wave a thin baton, he is, in fact what makes the entire process work. This is who Randal Lawson was to the SMC community.

Perhaps this is a cliche or even trite reference, but what truly comes to mind when thinking about a man like Randal Lawson are simple words of wisdom from "The Wizard of Oz": "A heart is not measured by how much you love, but how much you are loved by others."

Donations can be sent to the Yates Family, c/o Santa Monica College Foundation, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405.