Laurence W. Buffaloe
Black History Month, day 14
My friend Teresa MacColl recently gave a warm tribute and remembrance of her father, who passed away on Valentine’s Day. Following her example, on this day of celebration of love and good will, and continuing to honor Black Americans this month, I send this love letter to you all in heartfelt recognition of my father, Laurence W. Buffaloe.
My dad, Laurence W. Buffaloe, was easily one of my best friends. I recall that he never commanded anything of me but my attention. He garnered my attention most effectively in the way that he listened to me or quietly paid attention to what I was doing. He. Noticed. Everything. And the more he commanded my attention by noticing me, the more I paid attention — close attention — to him. A singular nurturing quality from a man of few words. I learned much from him.
My Dad died of kidney disease that was brought by acute kidney failure he experienced on the day I ran the Big Sur Marathon. He spent the next 3 ½ years in a challenging physical condition, one that he did not consciously choose. I continue to reflect about this period in his life. I thought that I knew just what kind of brave-hearted, gracious, strong, and often stoic, an individual my Dad was, but I never saw it more clearly in him than when he was dying. Yet as his body gave way, the spirit within him shone through ever more brightly. I was, and still am, in awe of his love and strength.
Phil Pelion wrote, “The story of the African American is the quintessential American story. Rising up from difficult circumstances, persevering against all odds, resiliency, thriving in the melting pot that is America, pursuing the ‘American Dream.’” My Dad’s life embodied this story, he was a quintessential example of a patriot, a proud and humble servant to his country, his family, his heritage.
My father, Laurence Waverly Buffaloe, was born September 14, 1937, in Norfolk, Virginia, the second child and eldest son of Evelyn Georgia Barnes and Waverly Buffaloe. His neighborhood of Berkley is located in a small section of Norfolk, Virginia, near the Elizabeth River and connected to downtown Norfolk by the Berkley Bridge. He was raised by his beautiful and caring mother, whom everyone called Georgia, and was a favorite of his great Aunt Laura. He had six brothers and sisters in all, who often called him “Pop,” after the untimely death of his father at age 37.
In his early years, my dad’s strength of character, superior athletic skill, strong work ethic, and steady leadership foretold his successful future. From elementary school through high school, he distinguished himself as a leader and champion in his family and community. He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1955 and Morgan State University in 1959.
Laurence distinguished himself at Morgan as a ROTC cadet, member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, and Varsity M Hall of Fame athlete. Upon commencement, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army, was a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran, and achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before retiring from Oakland Army Base in the early 1980s in California. Throughout his life my father was an accomplished athlete. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame at his alma mater, Morgan State University, in 1993 in honor of lettering in four varsity-level sports: football, swimming, track and field, and wrestling. In 2019, led by my mother’s efforts, our family established a scholastic award through the Morgan State University Foundation, called the Laurence W. Buffaloe Heart of a Champion Award.
In his second career in law enforcement, for the State of California, he became the Deputy Chief of Law Enforcement for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) in Sacramento, establishing the California Search and Rescue Program that was a model for programs throughout the nation. He went on to become the Chief of Law Enforcement for OES from 1988–2000, executing the State Law Enforcement Mutual Aide Plan. After retiring from two full careers serving his country and state, he was called again to serve as the Aviation Security Manager at Oakland International Airport from 2001–2006, in response to the 9/11 tragedy.
After his third and final retirement from The Port of Oakland, he enjoyed an active lifestyle of hobbies and traveled extensively to favorite spots — Hawaii, the Dutch West Indies, the Greek Isles, Tahiti, and Mexico. His family, colleagues, coworkers, and lifelong friends all remember him with deep and heartfelt admiration for his integrity, dedication, generosity, and humanitarian values. They recall his grounded optimism, big heart and a strong and determined mind.
My Dad died peacefully at home on April 22, 2018 in Roseville, California, at 80 years of age. He is still very much alive in me.