Hanging up her apron

Published 9:06 pm Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Longtime chef for Rotary to retire

Jane Lawrence has been feeding the Suffolk Rotary Club for 30 years, but at its last meeting in June, Lawrence will hang up her apron.

At least she’s going out with a bang. She plans to make the same meal for the club at her last meeting that she did the first time she cooked for them. They’ll be eating homemade barbecue that day.

“I hate to go, but it’s time,” Lawrence said.


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Lawrence, 79, was getting $5 each when she first started cooking for the Rotary Club 30 years ago. She has seen hundreds of Rotarians come and go and met many special guests and dignitaries who have visited the club.

Jane Lawrence has been cooking for the Suffolk Rotary Club for 30 years, but she’ll hang up her apron this month.

“I just love to cook,” Lawrence said. “Nothing fancy. I’m not a fancy person. But I’ve met a lot of nice people doing it.”

Lawrence learned to cook from her mom and grandma growing up in Aulander, N.C.

“They were always in the kitchen,” Lawrence said. “My grandmother used to make a thing called a tea cake. It was like a cookie, but it was a tea cake.”

Lawrence started out in her culinary career at Joe’s BBQ on Pinner Street.

“I did all the breakfast cooking until 8 o’clock,” she said. “Then I waited tables.”

She started cooking for various clubs, churches and family gatherings on the side. Soon, she realized she could grow that into a business.

“I thought, ‘Why couldn’t I do it for myself and make a little bit more than $50 a week?’” Lawrence said.

Every week, Lawrence begins preparing for Rotary Club on Wednesday, the day before it meets. She makes desserts and deviled eggs and sometimes does preparatory work for the main dishes.

Lawrence actually makes four meals for Rotary Club. In addition to the main hot dish, she prepares cold plates with chicken or tuna salad and also makes plates of smoked salmon for Rotarians who, because of religion or health concerns, can’t have the main dish.

Her main dishes vary depending on the day. There are salmon patties, beef stew, meatloaf, crab cakes and other delicacies, most prepared down-home Southern style.

Lawrence has come to learn the likes and dislikes of Rotarians as if they were her own.

“John Harrell has to have ketchup for his meatloaf, because his wife won’t let him have it at home,” she said.

James McLemore used to love her salad, because it had lettuce heart, his favorite part. Dr. George Cornell gets the tuna cold plate, except when barbecue is being served. Jay Butler always comes into the kitchen when he arrives and sneaks a deviled egg. Lawrence knows which cold plates should include fruit and which should not.

“I survived Lewis Rawls, Art Jones and Walter Rupp, so I guess I’m pretty set,” she said. Only about eight or 10 of the Rotarians who were there when she first started are still there.

Lawrence said she’s going to keep her other jobs for a little while longer and then maybe — just maybe — enjoy her retirement.

“Life’s short,” she said.