Vt. ski legend Andrea Mead Lawrence dies of cancer
By Kevin O'Connor
Staff Writer | April 01,2009
FILE / RUTLAND HERALD
Andrea Mead Lawrence greets well-wishers during a 1998 visit to the Pico ski area where she grew up.
Vermont native Andrea Mead Lawrence, the only U.S. woman to win two skiing gold medals at one Olympics, has died of cancer at age 76.
Lawrence, whose parents founded the Pico ski area where she grew up, landed on the cover of Time magazine during the 1952 Winter Games in Oslo, Norway, and remained in the spotlight a half-century later when Sports Illustrated named her the top Vermont athlete of the 20th century.
Lawrence was surrounded by her five children when she died at her home in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., just before midnight Monday.
An environmental activist who in her later life formed the nonprofit Andrea Lawrence Institute for Mountains and Rivers, Lawrence had just learned that President Barack Obama had signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, a law decades in the making that will preserve 2 million acres of wilderness and more than 1,000 miles of scenic rivers nationwide.
"It was the legacy she wanted to leave," her daughter Quentin said Tuesday.
Lawrence fought against unchecked slope-side development even as she battled cancer.
"I think my ability to deal with this," she said of her illness in a recent phone interview, "is because of my athletic background."
Lawrence was first diagnosed in 2000 when she discovered what she thought was a lump from hitting her head was actually brain cancer.
Undergoing surgery, she went on to mark the 50th anniversary of her Olympic wins by helping carry the ceremonial torch at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, where historian Bud Greenspan named her "Greatest Winter Olympian of All Time."
Lawrence returned to her home state for her 2002 induction as the first person in the Vermont Ski Museum's Hall of Fame in Stowe and her 2005 honorary degree from Green Mountain College in Poultney.
Then last fall, she learned her cancer had spread to her lungs. Deciding to forego toxic treatment, she enjoyed her last days sitting by her fireplace, sipping tea and watching it snow.
"I lost over 20 pounds in a very short period of time, so I have to stay quiet," she said in February. "My wonderful family has stood up to the cause. I really am very well cared for. And that's a good day."
Confined to bed in recent weeks, Lawrence nevertheless found herself back in the news when skier Lindsey Vonn topped two events at this year's world championships in France, spurring the Associated Press to report: "Vonn joined Andrea Mead Lawrence as the only American women to win two golds at a world championship."
Lawrence, while gracious toward Vonn, didn't think the achievement was the same.
"Maybe it's generational," she told this paper, "but I think two gold medals in the Olympics are different than two gold medals at worlds."
Lawrence, who married fellow skier David Lawrence in 1951 and divorced in 1967, leaves sons Cortlandt and Matthew and daughters Deirdre, Leslie and Quentin, all who live out West.
Several of Lawrence's last calls were to her friend since sixth grade, Peggy White of Rutland. Having collected six decades of newspaper clippings and magazine photos, White nevertheless summed up Lawrence in one sentence: "The world is losing a pretty great person."