Pat Lawrence, Lynnfield: Champions awareness of mental illness for her daughter’s sake

After her daughter Laurie was diagnosed with mental illness 23 years ago, Pat Lawrence became her champion.

“I had an 18-year-old daughter who was very sweet, very innocent, and very psychotic,” said Lawrence, 73, of Lynnfield. “A doctor told me to give up on my hopes and dreams for her. I wouldn’t.”

She started a support group in Lynn and later was president of the Bay State chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. On Beacon Hill, Lawrence led a successful fight for a law to expand health benefits for people with mental illness. She trains public safety departments on how to recognize the signs.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

For 18 years, Lawrence has hosted cable television shows, first in Boston, now in Belmont and Lynn. “The Pat Lawrence Show” aims to educate a broad audience about mental illness. Laurie, now 41, operates the camera for her.

“When I first started, I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn how to do something new,” said Laurie, one of three daughters. “It’s been interesting and fun to be with my mom.”

Laurie received this year’s Outstanding Volunteer Award at the Belmont Media Center, where the show is taped.

“It was wonderful, really wonderful,” said Lawrence, who presented the award to her daughter in a tearful embrace. “I would not have let anyone give it to her but me. I’m so proud of all she’s overcome and become.”

Laurie was a senior at Lynnfield High School when she had difficulty on a Florida vacation. “I remember the date: April 13, 1989. My walking started to feel funny. I was listening to the radio, and I thought people were talking about me on there.”

She was hospitalized five times in three years, stricken with delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, and fear. Doctors have never put a name on her condition, but medication has stabilized her. She earned an associate’s degree in human services from North Shore Community College and works at a group home for the mentally disabled.

Laurie also has diabetes, sleep apnea, and liver and heart problems. But she finds hope in every day.

“My social worker told me a long time ago that I would be grateful for the smaller things in life,” she said. “I am.”

Kathy McCabe