Audrey Ann Hoffman Lawson and William A. Lawson are a virtually inseparable pair—their personal, professional, and social lives inextricably intertwined. Both born in St. Louis, they met through the mail in their college years. Both received Bachelor of Arts degrees from Tennessee A. & I. State University: Bill in Sociology, Audrey in Social Work. Bill went on to study for the ordained ministry at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. They married in 1954, and Bill was later invited to come to Texas to work as Director of Baptist Students and Professor of Bible at the then-young Texas Southern University. It was in December of that first year, 1955, that the Civil Rights Movement was launched in Montgomery, Alabama. Because so much of the movement involved college students, the Lawsons found themselves caught up in the movement in Houston. In 1962 the two of them established Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. Bill and Audrey remained co-leaders of this unique church. It emphasized ministries to youth and children, and it responded to the minority community’s suffering with social services. Their church gave leadership to the Civil Rights Movement in Houston, becoming the Houston Chapter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Council.
For forty-two years the Lawsons led Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, and maintained their outreach ministries to children, youth, seniors, the poor, and the affluent. Audrey held jobs as counselor with HISD schools, as administrator with Career and Recovery Resources, and oversaw the purchase and building of the Ensemble Theatre. Last August, both Lawsons retired, and established a foundation called WALIPP-the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity-an advocacy agency for the poor, minorities, women, and other excluded people. Audrey envisioned as a service to minority boys an all-boys’ middle school, chartered to HISD, in an effort to re-direct teenage boys from crime, drugs, and a lack of direction. WALIPP is also currently engaged in the redevelopment of the Third Ward, and has under construction a 50-unit apartment complex built especially for seniors.
The Lawson four children remain their pride. Melanie is an ABC News anchor, Cheryl a banking consultant, Eric an Assistant Principal in a middle school, and Roxanne, a legal assistant and former City Hall staffer, who has provided the Lawsons with two beautiful teenage granddaughters, Robyn and Raven.
Bill and Audrey, now married for 51 years, are as inseparable as ever in their “counterfeit retirement.”