The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1973, Volume 19, Number 3
James E. Moss, Editor

Book Review

Never Backward: The Autobiography of Lawrence Oliver. By Lawrence Oliver. Edited by Rita Larkin Wolin. San Diego: Neyenesch Printers, Inc., 1972. Illustrations. Index. 229 pages. $6.95.

Reviewed by Richard F. Pourade, General Editor of Copley Books and author of a six-volume history of San Diego and Southern California plus companion volumes.

There was no public rush to ease Lawrence Oliver’s life when he reached our shores from the Portuguese Azores in 1903. Had he come in the era of paternalism he might have been propelled to success beyond the scale he attained in San Diego; or comforted, he just might have sat it out.

But Lawrence Oliver was ready and able for any age. He would have made it under any circumstances—and among his circumstances when he first landed in America was an inability to read and write at the age of fifteen. When he drifted in 1906 into San Diego, with a smattering of education, he found a town trembling on the verge of growth and change.

While he modestly insists in the little book on his life that he really is not a rich man, his mansion on Point Loma, his long interest in the tuna fleet, his processing plant, a golf course, cattle ranches and directorships in banks and utilities would raise some suspicions about that.

Thus Lawrence Oliver is one of San Diego’s most prominent citizens and it is fortunate that in his later years he has taken the time to put down the essential facts of his life. They are important because they also are essential facts of the city of San Diego to which he contributed so much in its rise from a town to a great metropolitan area.

Too few community leaders do this. His memoirs take their place with those of Ed Fletcher, Oscar W. Cotton, Shelley Higgins, and the local histories from Carl Heilbron, Clarence McGrew, William E. Smythe, and the recollections of Don Stewart and the family history of the Marstons.

Oliver’s life recalls the close ties San Diego has had with Portugal and New England, principally Boston and New Bedford. Oliver, whose name originally was Oliveira, followed his countrymen toward the home of the American fishing fleets and then came to San Diego where other Portuguese had taken over fishing from the earlier Chinese.

From this point on his story provides deep insight into a people and their ways on the shores of a land far distant from their original homes, and into a little appreciated phase of San Diego’s history. To start he chose, not fishing, but marketing. From there it was onward and upward.

For a half century San Diego has been richer and better for the arrival of Lawrence Oliver—and now it is richer for the memories he has left us for the future. Such recollections are the threads with which the general history of our times is woven.