John F. Lawrence, 70; Former Business Editor at The Times

Times Staff Writer

John F. Lawrence, a former assistant managing editor for economic affairs at the Los Angeles Times who also served as the paper’s Washington Bureau chief, has died. He was 70.

Lawrence, a leading figure in business journalism at both The Times and the Wall Street Journal, died Monday night in his New York City home of complications from lung cancer, according to his wife, Kathleen Hale. Lawrence was a lifelong nonsmoker.

In his two decades at The Times, Lawrence led a number of initiatives to improve the paper’s business coverage, including the paper’s first free-standing daily business section. In addition, he directed an editorial business staff of 60.


One of those staff members was Paul E. Steiger, now the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, who was hired by Lawrence when both men worked for the Journal and then came with him to The Times.

“He was one of the seminal figures in business journalism in the latter half of the 20th century,” Steiger said Tuesday. “He was a great advocate for tough, aggressive but fair business coverage and getting the stories out of the business section onto Page One. He was an advocate for making business sections accessible to the reader.”

In his role as The Times’ Washington Bureau chief, Lawrence figured in the court proceedings during the Watergate case. Judge John J. Sirica had ruled the paper in contempt for failing to surrender tapes of an interview that two Times reporters -- Jack Nelson and Ronald Ostrow -- had conducted with Alfred C. Baldwin III, a witness in the trial of those accused of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex.

As a result of the ruling, Lawrence was incarcerated overnight in Washington. The matter was resolved when Baldwin freed the newspaper from the confidentiality pledge and The Times released the tapes.

A native of Cleveland, Lawrence was born Feb. 6, 1934, and earned his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College in 1956. He started working for the Wall Street Journal, holding reporting jobs in New York, Cleveland and Chicago and then running the Journal’s bureaus in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He later ran the Journal’s West Coast Edition.

Lawrence was hired by The Times as financial editor in 1968 and, four years later, was named chief of The Times’ Washington Bureau. He returned to Los Angeles in 1975 to again run The Times’ expanding business coverage. At that time, the paper’s daily business report was contained in a joint section with sports, with business pages at the end of the section. The exception was Sunday, when the paper produced a separate section called Outlook.

Under Lawrence’s watch, the paper gradually introduced separate daily business sections, going to seven days a week by June 1983. During that time, the number of stock quotations more than doubled, and features that were then innovative, including a commentary page on economic issues, were initiated.

Lawrence also continued to write a syndicated business column. He won the Gerald Loeb award for business writing in 1971 and 1985 and the John Hancock Award for excellence in business writing in 1971.

He left The Times in 1988 for a fellowship at Columbia University and went on to work for Fortune magazine as a senior editor before leaving journalism in 1989 to become vice president of communications at the New York Stock Exchange. He held that post until 1993, when he joined the Capital Group Cos. as senior vice president of communications, a post he was actively working at just days before his death.

With Steiger, he co-wrote “The ‘70s Crash and How to Survive It” (1970).

In addition to Hale, his wife of 18 years, he is survived by four children from a previous marriage: Deborah Griego of Mountain View; Wesley Lawrence of Portland, Ore.; David Lawrence of Santa Clara, and William Lawrence of La Crescenta; and seven grandchildren.