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Lawrence Shields and family.

Photo courtesy of Marion Shields.

Shields, Lawrence Graham (1941–1973) and Marion (Gibbons) Shields

By Lester Devine

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Originally trained as a secondary history teacher, a career long Adventist educator, Lester Devine, Ed.D., has taught at elementary, secondary and higher education levels and spent more than three decades in elected educational leadership positions in two divisions of the world Church, NAD (1969-1982) and SPD (1982-2005). He completed his forty years of denominational service with a term as director of the Ellen G. White/Adventist Research Centre at Avondale University College in Australia where his life-long hobby of learning and presenting on Adventist heritage issues became his vocation. 

Lawrence and his wife, Marion Shields worked as a pastoral couple in Australia and were missionaries to Papua New Guinea. Lawrence was a pilot in the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church aviation program and was killed in a tragic plane crash in April 1973.

Early Life and Marriage

Lawrence Graham Shields was born into a Seventh-day Adventist home on July 15, 1941, in Brisbane, Australia.1 Baptized at Stanthorpe, Queensland, on June 21, 1952, Laurie first trained as a teacher at Queensland Teachers’ College, and also studied accounting at Queensland University before attending Avondale College from 1962 to 1965 graduating with a B.A. degree in Theology.2 During those years at Avondale he also taught accountancy part-time.3 At the end of his first year as a ministerial intern Laurie married a teacher, Marion Gibbons, on December 22, 1966, in Brisbane.4 Marion had been born in Devon, England, on June 9, 1944. She had graduated from the theological normal course at Avondale College at the end of 1964. She had then taught at the Victoria Park SDA School in Western Australia and the Mount Gravatt SDA School in Queensland5 until the end of 1966, when she resigned in order to marry Lawrence Shields.6

Ministry

Laurie and Marion Shields worked as a pastoral couple in a number of churches in the Queensland Conference, including Roma, Chinchilla, Aspley, Sandgate, Redcliffe, Kingaroy, and Murgon.7 It was while they were serving at Kingaroy and Murgon districts that Laurie was ordained to the gospel ministry at the South Queensland camp meeting on August 14, 1971.8 At the time Marion was serving as the principal of the special education school in Kingaroy.9

Laurie loved flying. He and Marion took every opportunity to fly together.10 At the end of 1971 they accepted an invitation to transfer to Tasmania, but instead, an appointment came for them to relocate to Lae, Papua New Guinea, where Laurie was to be pastor and a pilot in the SDA Church aviation program.11 They left Australia to take up their position in Lae in the Morobe province of Papua New Guinea on February 14, 1972.12 Their daughter Catherine was born at the Angau Memorial Hospital, Lae.13 They were stationed at Lae throughout 1972 and into 1973, where in addition to being the pastor of the church, Laurie initiated the building of a new youth hall.14

Around 4:00 p.m. on Monday, April 23, 1973,15 with about 1,250 flying hours in his logbook,16 Laurie Shields, took off from Goroka Airport in the highlands of Papua New Guinea in the one-year-old mission aircraft Cessna 207 VH-UBY.17 He had seven passengers on board.18 Very shortly after a normal takeoff, the aircraft experienced a sudden loss of power while beginning its climb, and Shields initiated an immediate and gliding return to Goroka and almost made it back to a safe landing before crashing into a drain at the end of the runway; so close, the propeller of the aircraft could almost be touched from the road at the end of the airstrip. Four died in the accident, or shortly afterward: Shields; Matthew Singoi, who was a medical orderly under transfer; and two of his four children on the aircraft. Four passengers—missionary Calvin Townend, Mrs. Raebi Singoi, and her two surviving children—were injured, some severely.19

Lawrence Shields and those who died with him were buried in the cemetery at the nearby Kabiufa Adventist High School on Thursday, April 26. Mrs. Raebi Singoi endured an extended period of recovery and was supported by the Coral Sea Union Mission.20

Speaking of him shortly after his death and having flown with him a short while beforehand, Dr. Winston Kent wrote:

Difficulties and troubles separate men from weaklings, as I have found out in the war years, and in skiing on mountains. Flying with Laurie Shields instantly put him into the category of a man, despite his small stature, and what is more, he was God's man. Calm and capable, he was also humble and devout, and he was engaged in the work of the gospel commission when he met his death. We do not know why God in His wisdom allowed this particular tragedy, but I gained much from my association with dedicated missionaries such as Laurie, and plan to meet him when Christ comes. He has at least one admirer in Melbourne who sends his sincere sympathy to his young wife and his family. Vale and auf Wiedersehen, Laurie.21

Laurie Shields’ wife, Dr. Marion Shields, in the years to come would continue to contribute to the mission of the Church generally, and specifically as a lecturer in education at Avondale College of Higher Education.22

Sources

Boehm, Ken A. “Where Have the Building Boys Been During 1973?” Australasian Record, April 8, 1974.

Kent, Winston. “Sopas Visit.” Australasian Record, December 17, 1973.

Lawrence Graham Shields Biographical Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Archives. Folder: “Shields, Lawrence Graham.” Document: “Worker’s Biographical Record.”

Lawson, R. N. “Shields–Gibbons marriage.” Australasian Record, February 6, 1967.

Marion Janet Shields Personal Service Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Shields, Marion Janet.” Document: “Personal Service Record.”

McCutcheon, O.D.F. “A Tragedy—The After Care.” Australasian Record, February 11, 1974.

———. “Lawrence Graham Shields obituary.” Australasian Record, June 11, 1973.

“New Guinea Plane Crash Takes Four Lives.” Australasian Record, May 14, 1973.

Parr, Robert. “A Tribute to a Mission Pilot.” Australasian Record, May 14, 1973.

Piez, E. R. “Mission Plane Crashes—Four Dead in Air Tragedy.” Australasian Record, May 21, 1973.

Thompson, C. R. “A Better Way of Life at Kabiufa Adventist High School.” Australasian Record, July 16, 1973.

“To the Front Line.” Australasian Record, May 22, 1972.

Watson, W. J. “Ordination—South Queensland Camp.” Australasian Record, November 22, 1971.

“When we were at the graduation exercises at Avondale . . .” Australasian Record, January 31, 1972.

Notes

  1. Lawrence Graham Shields Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Archives (Folder: “Shields, Lawrence Graham;” Document: “Worker’s Biographical Record”).

  2. Ibid.

  3. Ibid.

  4. R. N. Lawson, “Shields–Gibbons marriage,” Australasian Record, February 6, 1967, 6.

  5. W. J. Watson, “Ordination—South Queensland Camp,” Australasian Record, November 22, 1971, 7.

  6. Marion Janet Shields Personal Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives (Folder: “Shields, Marion Janet”; Document: “Personal Service Record”).

  7. Watson, 7.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Robert Parr, “A Tribute to a Mission Pilot,” Australasian Record, May 14, 1973, 4.

  11. “When we were at the graduation exercises at Avondale . . . ,” Australasian Record,” January 31, 1972, 16.

  12. “To the Front Line,” Australasian Record, May 22, 1972, 11.

  13. Marion Shields, email to Barry Oliver, November 30, 2018.

  14. Ken A. Boehm, “Where Have the Building Boys Been During 1973?” Australasian Record, April 8, 1974, 8–10.

  15. O.D.F. McCutcheon, “Lawrence Graham Shields obituary,” Australasian Record, June 11, 1973, 15.

  16. E. R. Piez, “Mission Plane Crashes—Four Dead in Air Tragedy,” Australasian Record, May 21, 1973, 1.

  17. Ibid.; C. R. Thompson, “A Better Way of Life at Kabiufa Adventist High School,” Australasian Record, July 16, 1973, 6, 7, 16.

  18. Piez, 12.

  19. Ibid.; “New Guinea Plane Crash Takes Four Lives,” Australasian Record, May 14, 1973, 16.

  20. O.D.F. McCutcheon, “A Tragedy—The After Care,” Australasian Record, February 11, 1974, 13.

  21. Winston Kent, “Sopas Visit,” Australasian Record, December 17, 1973, 6.

  22. Personal knowledge of the author as a colleague of Dr. Marion Shields.

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Devine, Lester. "Shields, Lawrence Graham (1941–1973) and Marion (Gibbons) Shields." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 10, 2021. Accessed January 27, 2022. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=884V.

Devine, Lester. "Shields, Lawrence Graham (1941–1973) and Marion (Gibbons) Shields." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 10, 2021. Date of access January 27, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=884V.

Devine, Lester (2021, January 10). Shields, Lawrence Graham (1941–1973) and Marion (Gibbons) Shields. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved January 27, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=884V.