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OBIT: Harding L Lawrence, Airline Chief



Harding L. Lawrence, 81, Airline Chief, Dies
By KENNETH N. GILPIN


arding L. Lawrence, an airline executive whose innovations transformed
Braniff International Airways, died on Wednesday at his residence in
Mustique, St. Vincent, West Indies. He was 81 and maintained another
residence in London.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said Catherine Lebow, a family friend.

In 1965, after a decade at Continental Airlines, Mr. Lawrence was lured away
to run Braniff, which was a small, stodgy, poorly run regional airline. In
his first three months on the job, Mr. Lawrence decided to revamp Braniff,
said C. Edward Acker, who in the mid-1960's was Braniff's executive vice
president.

"Not only did Harding change the image, but a significant amount of the
management," he said.

In large part, the transformation was conceived and carried out by a young
advertising executive, Mary Wells, who would later become Mr. Harding's
second wife. Braniff was the first client of Wells, Rich, Greene Inc., the
advertising agency Ms. Wells started in 1965.

Ms. Wells's concept, the "End of the Plain Plane," led Braniff to paint its
planes in bright colors and dress its flight attendants in Pucci-designed
uniforms. One DC-8 jetliner on the airline's Latin American routes was
painted in playful wavy patterns by Alexander Calder.

"More people will see this painting by a famous artist in a shorter time
than perhaps any other in history," Mr. Lawrence said in 1973. Braniff paid
the artist $100,000.

"There are a number of ways to change the image of an airline, and most of
them are conventional," Mr. Acker said. The moves at Braniff were "an
extreme departure, and it was a very difficult decision."

In addition to approving a change in the airline's image, Mr. Lawrence also
oversaw a rapid expansion in the size and scope of the airline's operations
after the industry was deregulated in the late 1970's.

In his tenure, Braniff's fleet grew to 110 aircraft and revenue rose to more
than $1.5 billion from $100 million. It became the eighth-largest airline in
North America and the largest in South America.

But expansion came at a price.

Braniff incurred huge expenses buying aircraft and starting dozens of routes
in the United States, Europe and Asia.

In 1980, hit by higher fuel prices, a recession and declining passenger
loads, Braniff began to founder. On Dec. 30 of that year, Mr. Lawrence, then
60, stepped down as chairman and chief executive, apparently at the request
of creditors. Braniff filed for bankruptcy in May 1982.

A big psychological setback for Mr. Lawrence during his Braniff career was
the payment in 1976 of a civil penalty of $300,000, then a record. It
resulted from the airline's failure to report an illegal $40,000
contribution to the 1972 re-election campaign of President Richard M. Nixon
and from disclosures that Braniff had given rebates and excessive
commissions to travel agents.

Harding Lawrence was born on July 15, 1920, in Perkins, Okla.

After two years of active duty with the Army Air Forces in World War II, Mr.
Lawrence began his career in commercial aviation in 1946, when he joined
Essair, later Pioneer Airlines, as assistant to the vice president for
operations. Pioneer merged with Continental Airlines in 1955 and Mr.
Lawrence was named vice president for traffic and sales.

For several years after he left Braniff, Mr. Lawrence worked in New York
with his wife at Wells, Rich, Greene. It was a change because for many of
his years at Braniff, the couple, who were called "America's corporate
sweethearts," had a commuter marriage.

"Mary lived in New York and Harding lived in Dallas," said Jere Cox,
Braniff's vice president for public relations in the 1960's and 1970's. But
they also had homes in exotic locations, including La Fiorentina, a villa
built into the mountainside overlooking the Mediterranean in St.-Jean-
Cap-Ferrat, France; a home in Acapulco, Mexico; a ranch in southern Arizona;
and their residence in Mustique.

Mrs. Lawrence sold her business in 1990. Her memoir, "A Big Life," is to be
published by Alfred A. Knopf later this year.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Lawrence is survived by two sons, James B. of
New York City and State R. Lawrence of Greenwich, Conn.; three daughters,
Deborah M. Lawrence of New York City, Kathryn L. Bryan of Red Bank, N.J.,
and Pamela Lombard of Geneva, Switzerland; and seven grandchildren.


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