Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I grew up hearing stories about Bunny Lawrence, a friend of my father's from the period just before WWII. He quit college his first few days of school when he realized there was very little to learn from his professors in his chosen field of Engineering. He managed to find employment with IBM while he pursued his passion of rocketry with friends. Their break down rocket launch platform is in the air and space museum at the Smithsonian. It had to break down so they could load it into the trunk of the car to make a quick escape in case something blew up. Bunny was one of the early members of the American Rocket Society.

My father was on leave in WWII before going overseas to Europe and spent a day with his friend Bunny who was working as a consultant on the B-25. At the time they were trying to solve problems in the de-icing of the wings. While the various engineers with all their specialties argued for mechanical solutions, electrical solutions, hydraulic solutions, etc., Bunny quickly developed an overview of all and laid out the multi-disciplinary solution required.

Following WWII, Bunny was one of the founding partners in Reaction Motors Incorporated, a company formed to build rocket engines for some of the most important American space projects including the X-15 rocket plane. The technology they developed is still in use in the space shuttle. For some of that important work, Bunny Lawrence was presented the Goddard Award for Rocket Engineering.

In 1964, Bunny became head of Chrysler Research Engineering where he worked on the development of the Lunar Lander.

Bunny Lawrence's story was told to me by my father because it was important to him. It illustrated the limitations of over specialization and the opportunity that lay in the cracks between disciplines. The greatest leaps of insight and imagination don't happen in school, but in the interface between disciplines, when driven by passion to learn and create, we choose to ignore what we have been taught, the artificial constructs of human thought, and challenge life under the scrutiny of our own hands.

Bunny, also known as Lovell Lawrence, Jr. died much too early of cancer at the age of 55 in 1971.

You may also be interested in the history of RMI, Reaction Motors Incorporated. The photo above is of the XLR-11 engine built by RMI on display in the NASA Exchange gift store at Edwards Airforce Base.


  1. Bunny's story is awesome and illustrates another important fallacy about our education system, and our society in general.
    That fallacy in my opinion is that you can not be successful without "college degree."
    I lack that degree, and I can tell you that in Bunny's day, it was a lot easier to "come with what you brought." By that I mean it's extremely difficult to just get into the front door of an engineering company without that 4-year degree. And yet, once you are inside and are producing, it's like they totally forget about what's on that resume.
    So I really appreciate this post and found it fun to explore.

  2. "Bunny" was my stepdad. He was the smartest man I've ever known, always tinkering and inventing. He was also sweet, kind and generous. Mom married him when I was in the 7th grade. I remember him fondly and was thrilled to find this blog about him. Thank you!

  3. Judy, thanks for commenting. My father always spoke of your step-father with the highest regard. If you would like to share more about his tinkering and inventing, email a story to me and I'll include it in future commentary of the Wisdom of the Hands. Your step-father was truly a hands-on genius. When I began looking for him on the web, I found that there was far too little information available, and anything you would like to share would be welcomed and of value.