April 27, 2018
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Local sports figure Smokey Lawrence remembered as lovable, positive influence

By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — His given name was Frederick Lawrence.

But you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who called him “Frederick” or “Fred.”

Everyone knew him as “Smokey.”

The popular and well-liked Lawrence died unexpectedly Wednesday at the age of 72. A complete obituary will be printed in Friday’s Bangor Daily News.

Lawrence refereed football and basketball games for many years and was also a softball and baseball umpire.

He went on to become a referee assigner at the middle school and youth league levels in softball and basketball, and he also assigned umpires for summer league softball in Brewer and Old Town.

There is a 10-team summer league for 14-and-unders and an eight-team fast-pitch league for women.

He used to drive garbage trucks for the city of Bangor before retiring several years ago.

In recent years, Lawrence had been operating scoreboards and time clocks at high school sporting events throughout eastern Maine.

He also drove people who needed rides to their various activities.

When he wasn’t handling those chores, he was enjoying games as a spectator.

“He was a good old soul,” said Clint Higgins, the commissioner of the summer softball leagues and a friend of Lawrence’s for 40 years. “You couldn’t find find a nicer or more humble guy than Smokey.”

“He was one of those rare people who didn’t have any enemies,” added Higgins.

Orono High School athletic director Mike Archer said Lawrence was “such a great presence to have at a middle school game.”

“He was such a good influence on kids. He was such a positive person,” said Archer. “He was proactive, and I love that in officials. He was always talking to the kids when he was refereeing. He was trying to educate them.”

Archer observed that Lawrence was a “fixture anywhere there was a good game.”

“You always saw him there. He’s the kind of person you wanted around,” said Archer. “He loved to be at games and support the kids.”

“He always cared about the kids,” said longtime athletic trainer Phil Mateja. “That was No. 1.”

Skip Estes, the Brewer High School softball coach, pointed out that the championship trophy for the 14-under league is named in Lawrence’s honor.

“He has meant so much to softball for so many years,” said Estes. “The kids really loved him. If he wasn’t busy, he’d come over to our high school practices.”

Higgins was instrumental in starting youth league softball in Old Town 19 years ago and, 10 years ago, he made Lawrence the umpire-in-chief.

“He was always meticulous. He was as reliable as the day was long,” said Higgins. “You never had to worry about anything [if Smokey was involved].”

“And Smokey was always unbelievably prompt,” added Mateja.

John Bapst High School athletic director Rick Sinclair had known Lawrence for a long time.

“He was a great guy,” said Sinclair, who hired him to run the clock and scoreboard at various John Bapst games. “He was the guy everyone liked to see. He loved what he was doing and he was good to people.”

“It’s sad news,” added Sinclair.

“He touched a lot of people,” said Estes. “He’s going to be missed.”

“Smokey represented everything that is good about athletics,” said Bangor High athletic director Steve Vanidestine. “He knew sports and he knew the kids. And he was very bright, very astute.”

Higgins relayed his favorite story concerning Lawrence. It occurred during the state 9- and 10-year-old softball tournament held in Old Town several years ago.

“There was a team from Sanford in the tournament and they lost their opening-round game in the [double-elimination] tournament. But they came back to win it. On the last day of the tournament, Sanford had this tiny second baseman and she came up to Smokey with a softball and asked him for his autograph,” said Higgins.

“Smokey did what he loved to do,” said Higgins.

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