NEWBURYPORT — George H. Lawler Jr., a major figure in city government for close to five decades who played a key role in the downtown’s preservation and renewal, died yesterday morning at his home at 22 Woodland St. He was 85.
Lawler served as mayor from 1964-67, and was as a city councilor for numerous terms, 1954-1963 and 1988-1991.
Though in failing health due to respiratory ills and other problems, he had continued to be active in municipal affairs in recent months. He is currently listed as chairman of the Board of Water Commissioners and took an active interest in events within the city.
He is remembered as a mayor who helped save the downtown from demolition in the 1960s, and veteran leaders here say he put the city on a track to stress preservation in its redevelopment.
“George really gave of himself when it came to helping the city,” said former Mayor Byron Matthews, a friend, associate and neighbor for decades. “I was on the council when he was mayor, and then he was city clerk for several of my terms as mayor.
“He should be given credit for preserving the downtown. He also helped to develop the industrial park, and he did many other good things. We were fortunate to have him here.”
The son of a Newburyport police officer, Lawler served as a special police officer for several years before winning his first term on the City Council in 1954.
He remained on the City Council until he took the mayor’s office in 1964. After two terms as mayor in City Hall, he worked for the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority until 1971. From 1971 to 1987, he was city clerk here. Lawler continued his activity in civic life after leaving that position, serving on the City Council again after leaving the clerk’s office.
The Newburyport native is remembered as a mayor who made an effort to preserve buildings in the downtown. Following Mayor Al Zabriskie, he pushed for preservation rather than demolition.