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His name was Cornelius “Neil” Lawyer, but those who knew him best called him “Moose” or “Grandpa Moose.”
Mr. Lawyer was born in a one-room sharecropper’s house in rural Mississippi and became the first in his family to graduate from college before eventually settling in Bellevue after living for years in Belgium. He loved to sing, and his strong baritone voice was a great fit for local theater production.
He coached several Brussels (Belgium) Little League teams to the European Championships but never reached the goal of getting to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. But four years ago, on his 80th birthday, his family took him to Williamsport to watch the event. He made it after all.
Mr. Lawyer passed away March 8 from complications of the coronavirus. He was 84.
“He lived a full life,” said David Lawyer, the second oldest child of Neil and Peggy Lawyer, who passed away in 1999.
Mr. Lawyer was born in Lorenzen in western Mississippi. Don’t look for it on the map. It’s not a town, it’s an unincorporated community that had a post office and fewer than 100 people.
The oldest of seven children, Mr. Lawyer got his bachelor’s degree from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, then got his master’s degree in chemistry from DePaul University in Chicago, where he met Peggy.
He was the first in his family to get a college degree, but certainly not the last. All of his siblings went to college, as did all five of his children.
Mr. Lawyer started his career as a research scientist and worked at a cancer research foundation before transitioning into technical sales, which led him to Brussels. He stayed there nearly two decades, coaching his three sons in Little League.
“As good as we thought we were, we were never good enough to make that one trip (to Williamsport),” said David Lawyer.
Mr. Lawyer and his family moved back to the United States in 1988, living in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Bellevue. He soon became a fixture in local theater, performing in stage productions, mostly musicals.
“He was a thespian want-to-be,” said David Lawyer. “He had a really rich baritone voice and could sing just about anything. His preference was show tunes, but he could do anything and he sang at a number of (his children’s) weddings.”
Son Pete came up with the idea for the family to go to Williamsport for his father’s 80th birthday. It was a big hit.
“He loved it,” David Lawyer said. “None of us had ever been there, but we had all read about it and talked about it. It was such a big part of our youth, him coaching us in baseball, and it was a chance to see this magical place we had never made it to. And it was unforgettable.”
David Lawyer said his father passed away quickly after being diagnosed with COVID-19. He was recovering from being hospitalized with a bacterial infection.
The survivors include his five children: sons David, Paul and Peter, and daughters Elizabeth and Susan. He has 17 grandkids and three great-grandchildren.
“He lived a good life,” David Lawyer said. “He got to see a lot and enjoy a lot.”