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Good For You | Nova Beall

100-year-old Dunedin woman's family joins her birthday party via Skype connection

At her 100th birthday party last weekend, Dr. Flora E. Lawrence of Dunedin took advantage of the latest communication technology to bring together long-distance relatives who couldn't make the trip. A Skype account and several strategically placed laptops allowed the birthday girl and four of her siblings in Missouri (ages 85 to 93), a grandson in a neighboring county, a great-grandson in the Air Force, and great-granddaughters at colleges in Illinois and California to take part in the celebration. Pretty impressive for a lady who shares her birth year with the founding of IBM, the invention of air conditioning and the neon lamp.

Flora Elizabeth Elam was born Feb. 8, 1911, in rural Pulaski County, south of Richland, Mo. She was the fourth of Joseph and Nettie Elam's 10 children. The family lived on a working livestock and crop farm.

When Flora was 10, the family home and barn burned while she was at school. She and her family were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

She completed high school in three years, earned a bachelor's degree in education from Southwest Missouri State Teachers College in Springfield, Mo., then moved to St. Louis. There, she worked in a church during the Great Depression to help place people in jobs.

She married Walter Chadwick Lawrence on June 18, 1932, in St. Louis. Their meeting was fated; Walter and a friend had boarded a bus in New York City and had randomly chosen St. Louis as their destination. He and Flora met at church. He was smitten, and the rest is history.

The couple welcomed a daughter, Suzanne Lawrence, on April 24, 1933.

A year later, the family moved to Buffalo, N.Y., then settled in Queens near Flora's father-in-law's pharmacy business.

After her daughter enrolled at Ithaca College on a full music scholarship, Dr. Lawrence worked as lead secretary for a company that manufactured air speed indicators.

In 1965, at age 54, she earned a master's degree in secretarial sciences. A year later, she began working for City College in Manhattan and commuted via subway, carrying papers and her typewriter.

She could type 106 words per minute. In the late 1960s, she taught actor Keir Dullea how to type for his role as Commander Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

She and her husband lived in Jackson Heights, N.Y., for a time before buying a six-bedroom historical cottage on the St. Lawrence River.

At age 61, she earned a doctorate in secretarial sciences from New York University and was the class representative at graduation exercises at Madison Square Garden.

Dr. Lawrence developed an effective teaching method for Gregg and Pitman shorthand, validated at five colleges in the state of New York.

After retiring from City College in 1976, she and her husband moved to Dunedin, then to Clearwater in 1987.

During the early 1980s, they made several trips to England.

After her husband's death in 1990, she sold her Clearwater home and moved into a villa, then lived with her daughter for a time. She became a resident of Mease Continuing Care in 2005.

In 1997, Dr. Lawrence traveled to England, Scotland, France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands with her daughter and grandson. Four years later, she and her daughter visited the Holy Land, where the 90-year- old floated in the Dead Sea.

Her daughter passed away in 2008.

In addition to her four siblings in Missouri, she has five grandchildren.

For 10 years, Dr. Lawrence has made annual trips to family reunions in Missouri. This time her family came to celebrate with her through travel and technology.

• • •

Richard and Lois Corwin of Clearwater celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a family reunion at the Tradewinds Grand Island Resort on St. Pete Beach. Thirty-eight family members were in attendance.

The Corwins married Jan. 15, 1961, in Miami. They moved to Clearwater in 1966.

He is a Navy veteran and graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor's of science degree in electrical engineering. He retired after 33 years with IBM, then worked for Raymond James Financial Services and retired a second time.

She was a homemaker for many years and returned to school to complete her college education. She worked 15 years at Horizon Hospital as a registered nurse. After more schooling, she graduated from the University of South Florida with a master's degree in nursing. She is currently employed as a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

The couple enjoys traveling, concerts and theater shows, walking the beach and spending time with family and friends.

Three of their four children live nearby as do four of their six grandchildren.

• • •

Jan O'Connor-Sharkey is celebrating 20 years as director of the Dunedin Chorus, a group she named "The Chorus With a Heart."

The group numbered only 40 voices when she took the reins in 1991. Since then, the number has doubled.

O'Connor-Sharkey has been a Dunedin resident since 1971. At that time, she became music minister at Our Lady Of Lourdes Catholic Church, where she remained for six years.

She is a lyricist and prize-winning poet, having been awarded the Editor's Choice Award for her work in 1994 and is published in the Anthology of American Poets in the Library of Congress.

In 2010, she was awarded History Maker of the Year by the Dunedin Historical Society.

100-year-old Dunedin woman's family joins her birthday party via Skype connection 02/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 4:43pm]
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