Iris Elaine Sanders Lawrence was a pioneering force in Amarillo. Small in stature, calm in nature, she was a determined woman who would prove to be a powerful asset for so many in Amarillo.

Her favorite color was purple. She loved to watch the news. Her favorite scripture was Proverbs 3:5-6.  She was committed to her community and her family.

Taji Session is the only daughter of Lawrence and John Edward Walker, Sr. She remembers her mother as a passionate and encouraging figure for all of her life.

“She was always pushing – not aggressively – but just always pushing me and my friends toward success in our own way. We didn’t have to do what everyone else did … she didn’t want me to feel like I had to choose a certain thing,” she said. "She was always gracious, non-judgemental and let everyone be who they needed to be."

Lawrence's life was extraordinary in more than a few ways -- she was raised in the same home she was born in, in 1943, and it was the home where she took her last breath.

“Before she passed away, I told her thank you for the best 50 years of my life,” Session said.

With beauty and brains, Lawrence was crowned the first Miss Black Amarillo in 1955. Five years later, she graduated with honors from G. W. Carver School. She left her hometown to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., then St. Augustine College in Raleigh, N.C. where she received her BA in English. She later went to West Texas State University and East Texas State University for special studies and psychology.

Lawrence took her experiences outside of Amarillo and used them to evoke change when she returned. She became a community and political activist -- participating in the first sit-in at J.C. Kress and Company and walk-ins at the Paramount Theater in 1959 and 1961. She was the first African-American female hired at Fedway Department Store, Diamond Shamrock and Levi Strauss, when the NAACP would test a company's diversity hiring practices. 

She was a political pioneer in serving as the first black, female, Potter County Democratic chairperson and elected official as Potter County Commissioner for Precinct 4. Lawrence's political acumen garnered the attention of the late Governor Ann Richards, who appointed her a member of the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

"She was a big supporter to me, especially when I decided to run for city council," said Freda Powell, Place 2 Amarillo City Councilwoman. "She'd say, 'Some people are negative, but I encourage you every day to keep moving forward and not let the naysayers discourage you.'

"I wouldn't be where I am right now if not for her."

Powell met Lawrence in the early 90s through their collective work in the NAACP and other organized events. She called her death a huge void.

"She represented hope and opportunity (in Amarillo)," Powell said. "Especially when she was elected as Potter County commissioner for Precinct 4 ... she was opening doors that those of us that were coming behind her could not open. Because of her we now have the opportunity to serve this community in a much greater capacity."

Potter County Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace, Judge Thomas Jones said Lawrence was also instrumental in his career.

"My dad explained to me that if there was anything in terms of politics that I needed, she should be my first call," he said. "When I had the opportunity to run for office, she was the first call I made. Her assistance and guidance is why I was elected 18 years ago.

"Myself, Alphonso Vaughn, Morris Overstreet -- I think she was the major factor in all of the African-American politicians that we have here."

Jones said he didn't know Lawrence at all when he reached out to her, but the two became close over nearly two decades of friendship.

"We developed a closer relationship during her tenure in the Commissioners' Court. We developed, not only a strong personal relationship, but a working relationship as well. My relationship with her means everything because I wouldn't be where I am today."

Jones said Amarillo has lost a true pioneer.

"She was one of the last movers and shakers in our community," he said. "She was able to get a lot of things done ... she was always involved. She was the factor, her footprint is all over."

Claudia Stuart was a long-time family friend and collaborator with Lawrence on community projects.

"Activists always tend to meet other activists," she said. "She was certainly an activist in her own right in Amarillo. She gained a lot of support, not only in the African-American community but the community at large for what she had done here.

"She had numerous honors and awards for her efforts."

Stuart also enlisted Lawrence's help when she wrote a book in 2005 featuring African-Americans in Amarillo.

"She provided a lot of her history because she grew up here in Amarillo," Stuart said. "Her message to people in Amarillo was that if there is anything that you want, you have the right to go after it and you can be successful with a support system, preparing yourself and putting yourself out there."

Stuart said those who missed meeting Lawrence missed a big opportunity to witness her in action.

"The caliber of person Iris was -- she was such a soft spoken, gracious and humble person," she said. "The way that she dealt with people in getting them to do the right things was admirable."

Lawrence died Sept. 18 after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 75. Her home going celebration service is Saturday at her home church, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, 118 South Van Buren St., at 11 a.m.

"She was always strong. The woman had strength out of this world. She passed away peacefully and with dignity," Session said. “These are days you don’t want to grow up. I want to be 7 years old. She’s my Iris, she’s my flower – the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”