RIP: Colonel (ret’d) Rhett Lawson, CD, KH, KLJ

Colonel (ret’d) Rhett Lawson, CD, KH, KLJ

21 January 2015:  The RMR Foundation regrets to announce the death of Colonel (ret’d) Rhett Lawson, CD, KH, KLJ, a former Commanding Officer (1967-70), Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel (1979-84), and Honorary Colonel (1984-90) of The Royal Montreal Regiment (and former Commander of District 1, a precursor to 34 GBC).  Comrade Lawson was also a member of the RMR Association (Br. 14).

Colonel Lawson was long considered the soul of the Regiment, and his counsel was sought on all matters.  His thirst for knowledge was unquenchable and he kept himself up to date with regards to weapons, tactics, leadership, uniforms, deployments, vehicles, etc. His dedication and passion for the RMR was strong to the end, and he was quite involved in editing the upcoming volume of the RMR’s Centennial history book.

His funeral will be held on Monday 26 January 2015.  Visitation will take place at the BROME-MISSISQUOI Funeral Complex (402 River Steet, Cowansville 450.266.6061) starting at 13h00, followed by a celebration of his life that will take place at the Complex at 15h00.

Read the complete obituary here.

A video tribute can be viewed here.

Colonel Lawson’s time in command was one of great change in Canadian society and the military, a confluence of history particularly centred in Quebec and Montreal: 1967 – 1970.  Remarkably, Colonel Lawson assumed command at the tender age of 30, after only 8-years in the military – completely unheard of in a peacetime army. From enrollment he had devoted himself to taking every single training course that he could, and he was fully qualified for promotion to LCol and able to take command in September 1967.  It can not be overlooked that Colonel Lawson was part of a new breed who had not served in WW2, and he had new ideas.  His civilian career (and passion) was Advertising, and his creative mind certainly served the Regiment well

Right from the beginning, even compared to all of society’s upheaval, progressive change, and more in the late 1960’s, Colonel Lawson was ahead of his time.

He took soldiering seriously and forced the Regiment to change from a social club mentality that saw the troops rarely training outside their Armoury.  He instituted Saturday field training which replaced the Tuesday & Thursday evening schedules.  His training model was so successful that it was mandated across Quebec by the end of the year, and then across the country within two years.  

As a born leader of men, he understood that fundamentally soldiers crave tough, challenging training – not being coddled.  He even created an “RMR Special Forces Platoon” and personally designed their own patch that they were allowed to wear on their uniforms. Competition to become part of this elite force was fierce.

Colonel Lawson loved being in the field. He especially enjoyed night recce patrols, shooting, and driving military vehicles at maximum speed across country.  It is documented in Volume 3 of the Regimental history that his driving once thrust his passenger’s head straight through the canvas of the jeep.  It was a “rather peculiar bump” according to the good Colonel… of course his passenger, the RSM, was less than amused by the adventure.

Colonel Lawson’s contributions to the Regiment were tremendous, here are a few examples:

He oversaw the Regiment receiving two of its four sets of Colours.  First as CO in 1969, and again as Honorary Colonel in 1989.  It must be noted that in 1969 he strove for the RMR to be one of the first units to receive the new Queen’s Colour with the distinctive Maple Leaf replacing the Union Jack, and the RMR was the third unit in the entire country to be so honoured.

Women were permitted to join the Regiment for the first time, and Colonel Lawson welcomed them into the field and onto the range.

Cadet Corps 2862 was formed and still exists today.

The Regiment was deemed “officially bilingual”, the first unit in Canada.

Militia training was professionalized across the country, due to his leadership.

It wasn’t only good times of course, his command also saw a minor exodus of leaders West “down the 401” towards a stronger economy and less FLQ activities.  

Unification of the Forces in 1968 shook things up immeasurably, and both the RMR’s “D” Company in Ste-Anne’s and the Regimental band were closed as a result of cost-cutting.  As the “new kids on the block” (the Regiment was barely 50-years old at the time), the RMR was in very serious danger of being disbanded.

The unit held its last “annual gala Ball” in 1970, as the depleted ranks of the Officers and NCO messes were incapable of carrying on the planning.

Political upheaval caused much strife: his own change of command parade to LCol (ret’d) Art Cauty was cancelled due to the FLQ crisis.

Despite the challenges of his era, Colonel Lawson’s strong leadership saw him move up quickly through the ranks post-command, and he eventually commanded District Number One, Montreal (precursor of today’s 34 GBC).  

In 1979 the Regiment appointed him as Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel and in 1984 he was appointed Honorary Colonel, a position he held until 1990.  Most members of the Regimental Family are unaware at just how involved he was in all aspects of Regimental life. Working behind the scenes, he magically made problems disappear before most people could even become aware that there was a problem.  In December he was still regularly involved in the upcoming publication of the Regiment’s Centennial history, having edited several drafts himself.  

His interest in the men and women who make up the Regiment are what really make him stand out in my mind. Traditions, trappings, rituals, etc. all have their place, but he was most concerned about the people who made up his beloved Regiment.


All living CO's of the RMR
All living CO’s of the RMR on 01 November 2014, Colonel Lawson centre in wheelchair

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