Laurence Klauber (1883-1968)

laurenceklauberLaurie Klauber, as all of his friends called him, was born in San Diego, at the family home on the north side of C Street, between 8th and 9th. He was the youngest of 12 children, of whom nine grew to be adults. His parents were both immigrants from Bohemia, in Austria-Hungary. They had married in Sacramento and came to San Diego in 1869.

Laurie attended San Diego High School and Stanford University, and was present during the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco. One of the family treasures is a long letter he wrote soon afterward describing his experiences there, an annotated version of which he published 50 years later for his friends and grandchildren.

He received an AB from Stanford in 1908 in Electrical Engineering, and was elected to Sigma Xi and Tau Beta Pi. Then he worked two years as an apprentice engineer at the Westinghouse Company in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Returning to San Diego in 1911, Laurie got a job with San Diego Consolidated Gas & Electric Company (forerunner of today’s SDG&E) selling electric signs. He rose up the ladder in engineering and management posts, and after 43 years retired in 1953 as Chairman of the Board and CEO.

In 1922 Laurie became interested in collecting snakes, lizards and amphibians for the then struggling young San Diego Zoo, and after a time was appointed its first Curator of Reptiles–a non-paid position. Later he was elected to the Board of Trustees and was President of the Zoological Society of San Diego in 1949-51.

At various other times he was president of two trade associations, four scientific societies, the San Diego Rotary Club, and for the last 26 years of his life, the San Diego Public Library Commission.

The study of reptiles, particularly statistical analyses applied to the taxonomy of species, became an all-consuming hobby with Laurie, and in the 1930’s his specialty in the rattlesnakes began to evolve. In 1956 the University of California Press published his two-volume work “Rattlesnakes: Their Habits, Life Histories and Influence on Mankind”. After 33 years and a second edition which he prepared and was published in 1972, it is still regarded as the definitive work in its field.

He published often in the scientific press, and during his lifetime described 53 new species of reptiles and amphibians. Fourteen new species were named by other scientists after him. Laurie was given an honorary Ll.D. by UCLA in 1940, and this may be why many called him “Dr. Klauber”. However he never used that term himself.

In retirement Laurie was often invited to speak to the Wednesday Club, to Rotary Clubs and elsewhere, and many of his Scholia talks were given double and triple duty that way. This sample of his titles show the diversity of his interests:

* The Atomic Bomb and its Aftermath
* Darwin After 100 Years
* A Delayed Book Review: the Life of Pliny
* The Population Explosion Smog: Is it a Threat to San Diego

He also was a great humorist, and often wrote poems for the birthdays or anniversaries of friends. I’ll close with this excerpt from one he did at age 78 for the 50th anniversary of his marriage to Grace:

So now I’ve told you all I know
On how to make a marriage go.
Be always adamant and stern
Maintain your rights at every turn
Unless your spouse objects.

In that case it is well to know
It pays to be a peaceful Joe;
So turn around, reverse your course
And let your partner be the boss,
Which has benign effects

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