Something of a legend in Hull, he lived here briefly but long treasured the town
Several years ago, this newspaper published an obituary for a 50-something-year-old man named Richard E. Lawrence. To Times readers who didn’t know that there were two unrelated men of similar age with the same name around town, it caused a stir.
With his usual dark sense of humor, the “original” Rick Lawrence – the larger-than-life local businessman who managed the Dream Machine arcade, Ricky’s of Nantasket, the Levin family properties, and for a time, the Paragon Carousel – spent the morning calling friends to inform them that, as Mark Twain famously wrote, the reports of his death were an exaggeration.
This time, we won’t be so fortunate to hear his familiar voice on the other end of the phone.
Richard E. Lawrence Jr., an unmistakably original personality known simply as Rick, died Dec. 21, 2020, after a period of failing health. As his family has opted for privacy, Rick’s many Hull friends are remembering him fondly today, July 29, which would have been his 68th birthday.
I met Rick 35 years ago, when I was a teenage employee of the Dream Machine video arcade and he had appointed himself the “King of the Beach.” Over the years, he became more than just the dirty-joke-telling, leather-jacket-wearing, pistol-packing, motorcycle-riding boss I first encountered that summer evening on the Nantasket Avenue sidewalk.
He was a very funny, very generous, very loyal friend.
Although he never relocated from his native Central Massachusetts, he quickly adopted Hull, and the town adopted him right back. Most summers, and even during the winter, Rick’s over-the-top personality was a presence around Hull.
“You always knew when Rick was in a room. He loved a good joke … well, not always good, but he loved jokes,” said longtime friend John Reilly. “He loved to buy drinks and pass time with friends after a long day at work. … I’m sure he is enjoying his Johnnie Walker Black and his smelly cigar and just waiting to share his opinion with us of all he has been watching over.”
The namesake of the former Ricky’s ice cream and food stand, Rick also managed the real estate of the Levin family, serving as the landlord’s representative for the beachfront block of stores stretching from the miniature golf course to Dalat. For several years, while the Levins were part owners of the Paragon Carousel, he managed the operation of the historic merry-go-round.
Following the death of his friend Leonard Hersch in 2008, Rick added the historic Fascination bingo game to the businesses he oversaw until the Levin family sold its properties in 2017. His strong work ethic and knowledge of the food-service industry were honed while growing up in his family’s business, the Wigwam restaurant in Worcester – or, as he pronounced it, “Wiss-tah.” In recent years, he co-owned Maury’s Deli in that city with his brother, Bob.
He was loyal to his friends and frequently gave advice and assistance to his fellow businesspeople in Hull.
Schooner’s Restaurant owner Jacqui Chase said his death “has left a void along the Nantasket Ave. strip.”
“Rick made being in business so much easier,” Chase said this week. “He helped every single place that needed anything. He was a good businessman, he always hired Hull kids, and was my good friend.”
Ken Hackel, who ran the Carousels and Ships gift shop for 30 years, called Rick “a treasured friend” and talked with him by phone almost daily, long after both had left their usual posts at Nantasket.
“In good times and bad, Rick was there to share the joy or provide comfort when needed. He was trusted – a rare commodity,” Hackel said this week. “He truly cared about the people close to him. Problems arise? I think I’ll give Rick a call. Generous? He would provide whatever and whenever it was needed.”
During his decades in business, he was involved with numerous local organizations, including the chamber of commerce, Nantasket Beach Merchants Association, the Bernie King Pavilion band concerts, and fundraisers of all kinds.
“Although he only lived in town for a short period years ago, he always acted like Hull was his hometown, and he cared very deeply how it was managed and how the future was planned,” said Reilly, a Hull native and Select Board member who shared memories of Rick at the board’s Jan. 6 meeting. “Of course, he had his own vision of what he thought should happen, and that is where the fun began.”
As Reilly noted, Rick had many opinions on many topics, and he shared them often, regardless of whether his audience seemed willing to hear them.
“Rick was never shy about sharing his opinion on local, state, national, social, economic, or international issues, and he loved a good debate,” Reilly said.
A staunch Republican, Rick enjoyed needling his Democratic friends, who also enjoyed returning the teasing. Reilly recalled that he “took particular pleasure in flying the Republican elephant flag from the mini-golf flagpole just to hope someone would notice it.” Very few did. When he returned home from a hospital stay, I messaged him that I was sending him a copy of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s latest book to read while he recovered. “Don’t bother,” he replied. “The wood stove is already full.”
In business, politics, and personal relationships, Rick considered his unwillingness to change his mind as sticking to his guns, but his stubbornness frustrated friends and foes alike. In his world, it was Rick’s way, or the highway.
His friends knew that image was not entirely accurate, however.
“I always enjoyed Rick’s tough-guy persona, where he’d try to come across as a cynical wise guy who really didn’t care about most people or what they thought of him,” former Hull Times Publisher Susan Ovans recalled this week. “That crusty veneer was a sham. Rick cared about the town of Hull, its people and its politics, although he tried valiantly to conceal that affection to bolster his tough-guy image.”
Hackel agreed, noting that Rick’s carefully cultivated image hid his true character.
“He had a gruff exterior but a heart that beat with kindness and caring,” Hackel said. “I could go on, but let me just say to those who knew him casually, you may not truly have ‘known’ Rick the man, but to those of us who considered him family, a knowing nod of agreement.”
“Despite his well-shared conservative opinions, he was actually quite liberal in his dealings with people,” Reilly added. “Once past his gruff exterior, he was actually a teddy bear at heart. He was always quick to offer help, or offer a struggling person or friend-of-a-friend a job. He took it as a great responsibility to teach the hundreds of Hull youths he hired over the years each summer the value and importance not of just having a job, but doing it well.”
I was one of those youths he hired, and Rick frequently reminded me that I owed him a tremendous debt for introducing me to my wife, Marilyn, who also worked for him. We have been married for 24 years, one of the many relationships that grew out of working together at Nantasket Beach. Frequently a matchmaker, he professed to be no fan of marriage, although he tried it once. When Rick attended our wedding, he offered his standard advice for grooms about to take the plunge: He would leave his car outside the ceremony, engine running and gas tank full, ready for a quick getaway if I had a change of heart.
In 2013, complications from an infection led to the amputation of part of his leg and a portion of his hand. He also suffered from heart issues that slowed his perpetual motion.
The man who always seemed indestructible suddenly became mortal.
Although he was no longer affiliated with beachfront businesses, Rick still loved Hull and stayed in frequent contact with his friends. If you missed his call, he would call back often until you connected. In the meantime, he left voicemails that were never straightforward; they could be a mix of inappropriate jokes, political rants, disguised voices, and a mock broadcast in the loud, staccato style of an old-time radio news reporter. I have at least one of each of these saved on my cell phone.
“I miss his unique perspective on Hull issues and common-sense approach to life’s problems,” said Reilly, who frequently got an earful of commentary from Rick on current events.
“Most of all, he cared passionately about and for his friends,” Ovans said of the man she and her husband befriended decades ago. “Roger and I loved him and we miss him.”
The last time I spoke with him, he had been arguing with the nurse in the rehab center about his physical therapy schedule and where he could smoke his cigar, or something like that. I don’t remember exactly, because I didn’t think it would be such a significant conversation. In the months he has been gone, Rick’s absence has been keenly felt.
“Thirty years wasn’t long enough,” Hackel said. “It is said that ‘the greatest casualty is being forgotten.’ Rick will not suffer that fate.”
Each time we talked, I asked him when he was coming around this way again so that we could meet for lunch, just like old times. I knew it wasn’t likely to happen, but it gave us something to look forward to, and another reason to pick up the phone when his number popped up on the screen.
I miss that.
I miss him.