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Builder who laid foundations of Ibrox revolution. Lawrence dynasty grew from humble beginnings to sow seeds of Rangers' success

THE Lawrence family empire, which started the transformation of Rangers from a sleeping giant to the most successful Scottish football club of the past decade, grew from humble beginnings into one of Scotland's most successful con- struction companies.

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Mr John Lawrence, who was born in the Govanhill area of Glasgow and left Calder Street School at 14 because his family needed the money, became an apprentice carpenter at 17. After becoming a tradesman in five years, he emigrated to America during the depression of the mid-1920s, but returned to Scotland within a year, set up a business, and built his first house - sold for #800 in Busby. His enterprise ultimately led to the formation of John Lawrence (Glasgow) Ltd, and his group flourished through the building boom of the 1930s, becoming popularly known through its slogan ''A Home of Your Own by John Lawrence''. During the Second World War, with the labour force depleted, his company built air raid shelters and hospitals, and later reconstructed much of Clydebank following the blitz. By the mid-1960s, his huge company had a payroll of 2000 and had built more homes in Scotland than any of its rivals. Under his chairmanship, the company and its subsidiaries built more than 40,000 private homes and 30,000 council houses throughout Scotland. If his business acumen in the construction industry had raised his profile, Mr Lawrence's name was to become even more well-known when he became chairman of Rangers in 1963, and earned a reputation as a football visionary. So enthusiastic did his interest in the club become, that he was soon the largest shareholder and, during his 10-year reign as chairman until 1973 when he retired due to ill health, he saw some of the finest moments in the club's history, including the winning of the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1972, but also the worst - the Ibrox disaster in 1971. When Mr Lawrence, who was a widower, died in 1977 at the age of 82, control of his company jumped a generation to his grandson Lawrence Marlborough, a quiet, somewhat enigmatic man who chose to settle in America and bought a string of interests there as his company steadily expanded. Mr Marlborough joined the Rangers board in 1973, was unanimously elected vice-chairman at the age of 36 in 1979 succeeding Willie Waddell who resigned, and a surprise #1m shares deal made him the undisputed power behind the club six years later, in 1985, when the club chairman John Paton described him as ''the silent partner''. He quit the Ibrox board in 1983, bringing a temporary end to an already long association between the Lawrence family and Rangers, but two years later the dynasty took outright control of the club when John Lawrence (Glasgow) Ltd increased its shareholding in Rangers to 52%, following a deal with club vice-chairman Jack Gillespie. That allowed Mr Marlborough to have two directors on the Ibrox board, Mr Paton and Mr David Holmes, then chief executive of the John Lawrence Group. The new broom, in the hands of Mr Holmes, swept with the force of a hurricane in April 1986, and brought new hope to thousands of Rangers fans after a period of under-achievement, when Graeme Souness was appointed manager in succession to Jock Wallace, sparking the arrival of several top name English players, including international captain Terry Butcher. Mr Marlborough's firm sold Rangers to current owner David Murray for #6m in November 1988, ending the Lawrence dynasty at Ibrox after it had virtually revolutionised the club on and off the park, and built one of Europe's finest stadiums. Mr Marlborough, who lives in Nevada, said at the time that with his family living there and his business commitments, the 6000-mile distance from Glasgow was too great for his responsibilities to the club. One former club stalwart said at the time that his late grandfather ''who assiduously built up the family connection with Rangers, must be spinning in his grave''. Much of the club's success on the domestic front since then - they are currently seeking their ninth league championship win in a row to equal the world record of rivals Celtic - is due to Mr Murray's ambition and business acumen. But the foundations for that success were undoubtedly laid two decades earlier by John Lawrence, and built on by his grandson.

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