Lorenzo Wallace, 97: WWII Marine served Georgia Senate in later years

Lorenzo Wallace found real joy in the part-time job he started at age 68: doorkeeper to the Georgia Senate.

Wallace thrived in the chaotic atmosphere of the annual 40-day legislative session — earning a promotion to Senate sergeant-at-arms at 86.

“He really loved that job,” said his son, accountant Lorenzo Wallace Jr. of Atlanta. “He liked knowing what was going on and meeting and greeting all those people.”

Lorenzo Wallace Sr., retired U.S. Postal Service employee, Congressional Gold Medal recipient and a state Capitol fixture for more than 20 years, died March 30 at age 97.

A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Warren Memorial United Methodist Church, with the Rev. Gigi Warren officiating.

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Wallace was born in Atlanta in 1919 to Edward B. Wallace Sr., one of the city’s first black surgeons, and his wife, Birdie.

He graduated from Atlanta’s Booker T. Washington High School and Morehouse College.

Wallace was one of the first African-Americans to enlist after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1941, opening the U.S. Marines to men of color.

“He didn’t want to join the Army. He’d heard stories about how bad the Army treated blacks,” his son said.

Wallace’s service in World War II took him to the South Pacific, where he was a radar operator and rifle marksman.

He rarely spoke of his military service. But he was honored when in 2011, about 70 years later, the Congressional Gold Medal was presented to him and the other early African-American Marines who trained at Camp Montfort Point in Jacksonville, N.C., his son said.

Father and son attended a medal awards ceremony in Atlanta. Wallace, though 90-plus at the time, also traveled with some of his fellow Marines to a second ceremony in Washington, D.C.

“He was very proud of the fact that the Marine Corps would acknowledge a contribution largely ignored,” his son said.

Wallace spent his working life with the U.S. Postal Service, retiring in 1974 as the Southern Regional Office’s transportation planning officer.

But retirement did not mean he was headed for the rocking chair on the front porch.

“It was very important to him to stay engaged in life,” Lorenzo Wallace Jr. said. “He was unstoppable.”

The days at the Legislature sometimes can be very long. At the conclusion of a legislative session, Wallace wouldn’t commit to coming back for another.

“’He’d say: ‘I don’t know. I’ll have to see how I feel,’ ” his son said.

Then as the next session approached, he’d commit to one more.

“It amazed me that he had the stamina for those marathon days, especially at the end of the session,” Lorenzo Wallace Jr. said.

But the Senate jobs – first as doorkeeper and then as sergeant-at-arms with oversight over chamber decorum and all doorkeepers — were perfect fits for the man who was “just friendly and interesting and interested in everyone.”

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who presides over the Senate, said Tuesday that Wallace “was not only a great Georgian, he was a dear friend to many at the Capitol.”

“He served his country and state with distinction, starting with his time in the Marines,” Cagle said. “We were fortunate to know him, and he will be missed.”

Wallace had patience and loved fishing. At 90-plus, he was still driving friends to a favorite fishing spot in Cartersville.

He also had a desire to help people, likely inspired by his grandmother’s prison mission work.

The church where he will be remembered today was founded by his grandfather, his son said.

Wallace is survived by his present wife, Thelma P. Wallace, and former wife, Gladys Beverly Wallace; son, Lorenzo A.

Wallace, Jr.; a daughter, Nneka Alston Perry; three grandchildren, a niece, and four nephews.

Knox Funeral Home in Atlanta is in charge of arrangements.

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