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Memorial: Native American Press publisher dies

Bill Lawrence, publisher of the Native American Press/Ojibwe News died Tuesday, March 2, at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, after a long illness.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, March 13 in the Bemidji State University M-100 gymnasium with a reception to follow at the American Legion.

"He died very quietly and gently - it's how he lived," said Roxanne Jensen, Lawrence's partner of eight years. "He very quietly left the earth."

Lawrence was 70 years old.

"I was able to speak to him in his last hour," said Sara Lawrence, his daughter. "Roxanne put the phone up to his ear. One of the things I said was, 'Dad, you had a good run. You made an impression wherever you went."

Lawrence, a Bemidji High School, Bemidji State University and Detroit Tigers athlete and Vietnam veteran, published his newspaper dedicated to American Indian issues for 21 years. In his last edition dated Sept. 1, 2009, he wrote a lengthy farewell titled "A Warrior's Creed: Today is a Good Day to Die."

He said the diagnosis of cancer had left him physically unable to do the work necessary to turn out a newspaper. "These will be my last words, editorially speaking," he wrote.

Lawrence's mission in the Native American Press was to expose corruption and illegal activities in tribal government. His work as a watchdog helped send some tribal leaders to prison. He also worked to open the books of the state's Indian casinos. Among his final works was a series on the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome in the Indian community.

His investigative newspaper work also made him some enemies.

"He was a straight arrow," said Pete Barthelemy, Lawrence's friend since childhood. "If he had you in his crosshairs, you'd better be careful. He was relentless."

Barthelemy said holding the memorial service in the old BSU gymnasium is fitting because that's where many people cheered Lawrence in his college playing days.

"He was a remarkable person in many ways," said Jensen. "He never would back down. He was courageous."

Jensen said Lawrence's growing up as a Red Lake Band of Chippewa member in Bemidji, being an athlete and being a Marine officer gave him the warrior's outlook and determination.

"He didn't give up," she said. "He played to the end."