SAN DIEGO — Did hotelier Larry Lawrence really touch off the earthquake that roused the city from its slumber early in the morning of Nov. 24?
Probably not, although a rumor to that effect made the rounds of the crowd of 320 that assembled that evening at the Omni San Diego Hotel to "roast" the leading businessman and Democrat for the benefit of the M. Larry Lawrence Branch Jewish Community Center. The suggestion made was that Lawrence had stayed up all night composing snappy retorts to the roasters' insults, and that when he penned a particularly devasting remark, his "Eureka!" caused tall buildings to sway and small houses to tremble.
Lawrence certainly did not tremble, even when faced by a roster of roasters who assured him that they had spent the day with their tongues to the grindstone, honing needle-tipped witticisms guaranteed to pierce the thickest armor.
During the cocktail hour, roaster Robert Caplan, who in his daily life is Lawrence's attorney, said that he and his fellow roasters (banker Murray Galinson; San Diego Newsline publisher Larry Remer; Evonne Schulze, an aide to former Mayor Roger Hedgecock; Jewish Community Center campaign consultant Al Hutler, and financier Dick Silberman) had come to the banquet "with malice in our hearts." In truth, though, once they began speaking, it became evident that most had come not to harry Lawrence, but to tease him.
Jeanne Lawrence made it clear that she expected her husband to emerge from the experience unscathed.
"What can they say about Larry?" she asked, her face lit with a coy smile. "What can they say ? He's so perfect!" She added, however, that she had declined her husband's invitation to be among the roasters because, as she said, "A wife isn't allowed to testify against her husband."
Lawrence said that the one disappointment of the evening was the illness-caused absence of Police Chief Bill Kolender, who was to have been a roaster. "I'd made up some of my best comebacks for him," Lawrence said.
Despite the announced nature of the event, there was an air of reverence in the ballroom for the man who donated in excess of $1,000,000 to found the Golden Triangle-area community center. While several speakers joked that the first initial of M. Larry Lawrence's name stands for "money," of which the Forbes 400 member has made plenty (actually, it stands for Maurice), an observant guest in the crowd suggested that perhaps the letter signifies mitzvah, the Hebrew word for good deed.
Rabbi Wayne Dosick gave the invocation that opened the dinner, and Lawrence's daughter and son-in-law, Leslie and Shlomo Caspi, offered the traditional blessing over the bread. (They included a basket of mandelbreit, or almond cookies, in the blessing, since Leslie said that her father is the original "Cookie Monster.") Lawrence's daughter, Andrea, and son and daughter-in-law, Robert Lawrence and Laurie Black, also were present.
The meal, however, merely served to forestall the inevitable. M. Larry Lawrence Branch President Gordon Gerson naturally could not resist saying nice things about his center's benefactor ("I salute Larry for sharing with us his vision," Gerson said.), but County Supervisor Susan Golding got in a few licks when she presented the roastee a proclamation in his honor that, she said, she had been unable to persuade other supervisors to sign. Master of Ceremonies Jerry G. Bishop also managed to make an unkind comment or two, but he always smiled when he did, pardner.
Roaster Al Hutler set a lively tone when he said, "To Larry, lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for. Most of the time, Larry's backing in politics is the kiss of death. Gary Hart--remember Gary Hart? Larry backed him."
When his turn at the podium arrived, Larry Remer said, "Having known Larry Lawrence for 15 years, I've found the truth is much stranger than anything I could make up. But this is a censored roast--Larry had to approve all roasters and topics in advance."
Actually, this wasn't true, because midway through the roast, a Dolly Parton look alike burst into the ballroom, sashayed up to the guest of honor, planted herself in his lap and brought a blush to many a face with her lively remarks.
The evening ended with Lawrence's retorts, a generally gentle mix of comments that were no more unkind than those made by the roasters.
Steve Wilson arranged the benefit, and among the guests were City Councilman Bob Filner, Jewish Community Center board President Stan Pappelbaum, Roanne and Hank Gotthelf, Heather and Jack Metcalf, Marsha Alex Lubick and , Sally Yard and Hugh Davies, Elene and Herb Solomon, Colette and Ivor Royston, Mandel Weiss, Ballard Smith, Rose Friedenberg, Virginia and Jack Monday, Muriel and Irving Roston, Marcia and Don Wolochow, Herb Brin, Francie and Chris Mortenson, and Joan and Irwin Jacobs.