Steve Lawrence wore cowboy boots and a suit when he first walked into the offices of the Financial Times of Canada in a low-rent building above a video store at the corner of Yonge Street and Summerhill Avenue in midtown Toronto. He was the new editor.
An experienced American journalist, he was parachuted in to try to save the failing financial tabloid that was owned by Thomson Corp. It was a tough assignment and turned out to be a hopeless cause, but Mr. Lawrence did his best to try to keep it afloat.
"He shook things up," said Marcus Gee, now The Globe's Toronto columnist, then a senior editor at the Financial Times. "I remember one phrase of his: 'Don't ping pong the reader,' by which he meant don't say 'on the one hand this and the other hand that.' He meant [a writer should] take a point of view."
Mr. Lawrence was blessed with an incredible collection of young financial journalists at the Financial Times, including Giles Gherson, who went on to be business editor of The Globe and editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star; Patricia Best, a magazine feature writer; Michael Posner, who was a columnist at The Globe and an author; and Dunnery Best, a well-known financial writer who went on to become a successful broker.
"Steve was an excellent editor. He came from Forbes Magazine, and he had a good eye for a business story. He honed my writing skills," said Mr. Gherson, who is now deputy minister for economic development and growth for the Ontario government.
At the time, Mr. Gherson was the Ottawa bureau chief and columnist for the Financial Times. "Steve always made my columns more crisp and clear, though he never seemed to able to spell Ottawa. It always came back 'Ottowa.'"
Stephen Jeffrey Lawrence was born in New York on April 7, 1942. His father, Jerome Lawrence, was a prominent radio announcer, working on Frank Sinatra's program, as well as being the overnight voice of the war in New York during the Second World War.
He graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara and then earned a master's degree in journalism at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill. He worked as a news writer at a talk radio station for a while then moved to New York to study law. He dropped out to work for the New York Post, then moved to the city's other tabloid, the New York Daily News, as its consumer affairs reporter.
Mr. Lawrence then moved to the New York Times, where was a business editor. He kept moving, finding one exciting job after another, working for Time Inc., then as an editor at Forbes Magazine, where he stayed for six years.
"Steve had a great eye for stories and a particularly deft touch in sprucing up ledes [newspaper-speak for the first sentence in a story]," Rex Seline wrote in an e-mail. He worked with Mr. Lawrence in Dallas and New York. "He radiated energy, which spread throughout the newsroom. In fact, it was almost magnetic."
In 1991, Mr. Lawrence moved to the Financial Times in Toronto, where he worked for about a year. Mr. Lawrence then started working as a roving "quality control" editor of the string of smaller papers then owned by Thomson. (The Financial Times of Canada eventually folded in 1995.)
"He would be gone for long stretches. Thomson had him visiting newspapers across the country," said his wife, Vera. "His job was to try and improve the writing and editing at the smaller papers."
The couple moved back to the United States, eventually ending up in New Mexico, where Mr. Lawrence fulfilled the dream of many big-city journalists: owning a small-town newspaper. In 1995, he bought a community newspaper called Crosswinds. At first, it was a monthly distributed in Santa Fe and Taos, then he moved it to Albuquerque and changed it to a weekly.
It flourished, and circulation rose from 18,000 to 30,000. It was an alternative newspaper, carrying reviews of movies, books and art. But one thing it did not carry was sex ads in its classified section.
"People told him if he took sex ads it would save the paper. But he refused," his wife said.
As the Internet took a toll on revenue from classified ads across North America, Crosswinds felt commercial pressure, in spite of winning editorial awards.
"I can't tell you how many people told me they loved the newspaper, but they never spent a dime with us," said Mr. Lawrence when the paper closed in 2006. He and his wife then moved to the Los Angeles area.
Mr. Lawrence died on Jan. 17, in West Covina, Calif., about a month after being diagnosed with leukemia. He was 75. He leaves his wife, Vera, and brother, Tony.