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Lawrence J. Straw, a veteran and devoted husband and father who found success as an engineer, executive and entrepreneur, died peacefully Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, at his home in James City County. He was 93.
Larry, as he was affectionately known to family and friends, was born in Philadelphia on March 12, 1923, to Michael Straw, a battalion chief in the Philadelphia Fire Department, and Ellen Devlin Straw. He was the oldest of four siblings and the last to move on to his reward.
Straw grew up in a strict yet kind-hearted German and Irish-American, Roman Catholic family, living first in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood and later in its Olney neighborhood. As a kid, he was devoted to his faith and to his studies, excelling in mathematics and later physics. He scouted, attaining the level of Eagle Scout, and pursued music, playing flute in the city transit authority marching band.
As a teen, he joined the New Jersey Army National Guard to train with the unit and play during the summers with its band. He performed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Camp Drum (now Fort Drum) in upstate New York. When his unit was federalized in 1940, his father had him discharged as war loomed and he lacked formal parental consent to enlist.
Growing up, Larry enjoyed summer vacations to Wildwood and Ocean City, New Jersey. As the war in the Atlantic reached American shores, Larry observed Coast Guardsman patrolling the beaches, accompanied by German Shepherds and armed with rifles and ice cream cones. In that, he saw how best to serve his country should it enter the war. After graduating from Olney High School, on Dec. 8, 1941, he reported for his first day of work as a draftsman at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, but was soon released by his supervisor and enlisted in the Coast Guard.
Larry’s skill in physics, specifically electronics, earned him rating as a radioman and training in the cutting-edge technologies of RADAR, radio direction finding and LORAN. He was posted to Cape May, New Jersey, where his outfit guarded allied shipping from the threat of German U-boats. After American food wrappers were spotted among debris from U-boats sunk off the East Coast, Larry’s responsibilities included armed boardings of foreign fishing boats to seize vessels’ radios.
He shipped out to Boston and was responsible for the USCGC Northland’s electronics on the Greenland Patrol. Using radio direction finding, the cutter and others carrying allied troops located and seized German posts on the coast of Greenland transmitting reports to the continent on weather headed for the battlefields of Europe.
In his civilian career, Larry applied his engineering expertise to pursue success in the technology and defense contracting industries, first as a salesman and later an executive with companies such as Bendix Radio, Philco, Hughes Aircraft, Sylvania, Litton, Ball, RCA and GE.
He took his greatest professional pride in working for Howard Hughes, and while at Philco he developed a valued friendship with company principal, Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of television. Notable projects he supported as a manager during his career included the Air Force’s Ballistic Missile Early Warning System and LGM-30 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile, the Navy’s SOSUS undersea sound surveillance system, which provided strategic advantage during 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as the Army’s TACFIRE automated field artillery command and control system. His projects also included numerous phased-array radar systems deployed on vessels, including the last USS Enterprise and that supported the Army’s Patriot and Stinger surface-to-air missile systems.
In the mid-1970’s, Larry realized a lifelong dream of entrepreneurship when he acquired KKOK-AM, a small-market radio station broadcast from Lompoc, California, with a country music format serving the region’s ranch country. Industry consolidation and other market factors spurred his return to continued success in the defense sector.
Larry loved sailing; southern California; a Bourbon old fashioned; and the fine German-American cuisine he grew up on: potato chips, pretzels and Lebanon bologna, all with spicy brown mustard, and, for dessert, Tastycake butterscotch Krimpets.
He was first and foremost a sweet, loving man who enjoyed a good laugh, preferably at something inappropriate. He loved W.C. Fields above all comics, in large part for his shared sentiments toward their hometown, and his favorite film was “Some Like it Hot.” In his later years he would laugh out loud at the highbrow comedy of Jackass and Tosh.O, and he came to terms with his love of animals, first among them, his grand-dogs, Benny and Duncan.
Larry is survived by five children, Joseph, from his marriage to the late Ellen O’Brien Straw, and James, Thomas, Margaret Straw Bowman and Michael, from a previous marriage; and 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his eldest son from his first marriage, Larry Jr.
His family extends its gratitude to Well Care Home Health, Synergy HomeCare, SenCura, Bayada Home Health Care, Brightstar Care, Gentiva Hospice, Visiting Physicians Association, Drs. Michael Trahos, Machell Beach, Michael Laccheo, Elena Viterbo-Noble, John Nordlund and their staffs, plus CVS pharmacies number 2418 at 2121 15th St. N., Arlington, VA, and number 2537 at 1187 Jamestown Road, Williamsburg, for supporting Larry’s care and quality of life in his later years.
Visiting hours will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18, at Hungerford and Clark Funeral Home, 110 Pine St., Freeport, New York. A funeral Mass will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, at Our Holy Redeemer Church, 87 Pine St., Freeport, New York, followed by interment in St. Charles Cemetery, Farmingdale. In lieu of flowers, please just relax and enjoy a cocktail.