Rising to New Heights

Carlene Roberts Lawrence

Carlene Roberts Lawrence, the widow of Justus B. Lawrence ’27, lived a pioneering life. Raised in Oklahoma by a single mother, the aspiring actress took a secretarial job as a source of steady work. She then climbed the ranks to become the first female executive of a major American airline.

Ms. Lawrence, who was known as Carlene Roberts at the time, became a vice president of American Airlines at the age of 37 in 1951, one of the first women to hold an executive position in any American industry. Her promotion made headlines; a United Press reporter described her as having “supersonic drive.” In 1968 she married Justus Lawrence, an author, film executive, and head of public relations for the U.S. Army in World War II’s European theater, who later had his own public relations and research firm.

After Justus’s death in 1987, Ms. Lawrence established charitable gift annuities at Yale to recognize his sixty-fifth reunion. She transferred approximately $50,000 in securities on two occasions, and received annuity payments of 9 percent each year, roughly $8,500 annually, for the remainder of her lifetime.

When she died on October 29, 2018, at the age of 105 in her Manhattan home, her Yale annuities had increased to a value of more than $1 million. Enriched by years of endowment growth, Ms. Lawrence’s gifts will fund an endowed scholarship in Justus’s name, supporting several undergraduates each year. She not only created a reliable income stream for herself, but also built a truly meaningful gift to the students of her husband’s alma mater.

Her impact as a trailblazer positively affected many generations of women who came after her, and her impact as a donor will help Yale students realize their dreams for many years to come.