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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, July 15, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesFormer Sen. Lawaetz Leaves Vast V.I. Legacy

Former Sen. Lawaetz Leaves Vast V.I. Legacy

June 19, 2005 – Frits E. Lawaetz was born on Oct. 5, 1907, in Estate La Grange in Frederiksted. Lawaetz was best known as a rancher and a senator. In 1955 Lawaetz' popularity as a farmer and cattle breeder gave him the strong constituency needed to run for the first Legislature of the Virgin Islands. He emerged as the top vote-getter in that election.
He went on to serve in the next seven consecutive Legislatures and then was re-elected to the 11th and 12th Legislature, serving a total of 20 years as an elected official.
He served as chairperson of several legislative committees including Rules, Finance, and Public Works. As a politician he was known as a man of his word, respected for his courage and conviction.
Lawaetz learned the art of farming from his father, Carl, who immigrated to St. Croix from Denmark in 1891, along with his wife, Marjorie, to work as a foreman at a plantation. Carl eventually bought the 450-acre Estate La Grange farm, and the property has been in the family Lawaetz ever since.
Lawaetz received his elementary education in Frederiksted and was sent to Denmark, as was the custom, for advanced training in the field of agriculture. When he returned to St. Croix in 1927, he worked at the La Grange Sugar Factory. He later relocated to Puerto Rico, where he was employed by the United Puerto Rico Sugar Company. Upon his return to St. Croix, he worked at the River Complex, a sugar and livestock plantation on St. Croix.
As the general manager and eventual owner of Annaly farms, Frits Lawaetz was for many years the largest private grower of sugar cane on St. Croix and contributed to the breeding and improvement of the world-famous Senepol cattle.
An icon of political and social life in St. Croix, Lawaetz was the subject of many articles about his life. In 1999 Dennis McCluster wrote about how Lawaetz got the nickname, "The Bull of Annaly," in a Daily News special publication.
Lawaetz says he was given the moniker after receiving a death threat, to be carried out on Sunday at church. Days later, as he addressed a political crowd, he referred to the threat.
"Hey, you said you were going to kill me Sunday," he bellowed. "I waited at the church and you ain't shoot me. Well, here I am, standing big as a bull. You can't miss me."
The name stuck.
Even after serving in the Senate for two decades, Lawaetz continued his service to the people of the Virgin Islands. He was a strong supporter of the St. Croix Friends of Denmark, the Chamber of Commerce, the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Boy Scouts of America.
In 1986 Queen Margrethe II knighted Lawaetz and bestowed on him the Order of Dannebrog as a reward for his meritorious service and work in Danish interests. In 1994, the 20th Legislature renamed the Lagoon Public Housing in his honor. Presently, the Legislature's St. Croix offices are housed there.
On Friday, during a meeting of the committee on Agriculture and Labor, Sen. Ronald E. Russell called for a moment of silence in Lawaetz' honor.
"It is fitting that we should pause and remember former Sen. Frits Lawaetz at this committee meeting," Russell said. "He was a champion of labor and a supporter of farming."
Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen, in a press release issued Friday, called Lawaetz a "legendary figure in the Virgin Islands landscape for the greater part of the 20th century."
"He was a staunch Democrat and an integral part of its transformation of the Virgin Islands into a middle-class society. He kept the legacy of agriculture alive in the territory," Christensen wrote.
In a press release, Senate President Lorraine L. Berry extended condolences on behalf of the 26th Legislature: "This territory has benefited from his contributions to agriculture, and many farmers today have been the beneficiaries of his counsel, his wisdom, and his love for the preservation of our natural resources that have been used to feed multitudes of people in the territory and abroad over the years."
Sen. Berry continued by saying, "The Virgin Islands has lost a great leader and a fine Crucian who was instructive to the young people of the value of hard work, and public service.
"Frits Lawaetz was a multifaceted individual who used his tangible assets and skills to serve the Virgin Islands' people for over 30 years," said Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone in a press release from his office.
Malone added, "His professionalism, community involvement and sound legislation set precedent for many elected officials and citizens of the U.S. Virgin Islands to emulate. His legacy will remain a constant in the hearts and minds of those who had the distinct pleasure of his company."
Sen. Neville James — whose father, Sen. Randall "Doc" James, served in the Legislature with Lawaetz — said the elder statesman has gone to his "heavenly reward."
"Frits is once again riding horses in wide open spaces; he made his mark in this life, and it is time for him to take his heavenly rest."
Lawaetz died on Thursday after a long illness.
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