‘Everyone knew PeeWee’
BY REBECCA J. BARNABI, The Free Lance-Star
He did not hold a public office. He did not drive a car. He did not have a six-figure income.
But Lawrence “PeeWee” Atwell did have the love of the residents of Colonial Beach.
Often seen on a three-wheeled bike and always asking others if they needed help with anything, Atwell was known by seemingly everyone in Colonial Beach.
His death on Nov. 25 at age 77 has the town missing a favorite son who lived all of his life in town with physical and mental challenges. Those who attended Atwell’s Nov. 30 funeral said mourners were standing in the aisles.
“I think everyone knew PeeWee. You knew him because he was everywhere,” said Jeanette Stine, a Colonial Beach area resident who had known Atwell for almost 50 years and attended Colonial Beach Baptist Church with him.
After learning that money was needed for Atwell’s funeral expenses, Stine posted a notice on Facebook and had it announced at the church.
Colonial Beach Baptist Church secretary Carol Jett Massey said not only did the fundraising effort bring in the nearly $2,600 needed to cover Atwell’s final expenses, it raised an an extra $67.50 that will be donated to the food bank in his memory.
“Everyone was eager to help. That is how the folks in Colonial Beach are. When a real need is there, they will jump in and make it happen,” Massey said.
According to Stine, Atwell got the nickname “PeeWee” when he was born. Weighing just 2 pounds, he was so small he would almost fit into a cigar box.
As an adult, he did odd jobs for people in town, and often would receive a meal as payment.
About 15 years ago, the women’s group at Colonial Beach Baptist Church bought Atwell a new bike and presented it to him at the church Christmas party.
The bike was stolen a few days later, but within a short time, three bikes were given to Atwell as replacements.
“I wish I could be like him. He never had an enemy,” Stine said.
When Atwell was diagnosed with prostate cancer in September, doctors gave him three months to live, said Stine. Yet, Atwell always put on a happy face for others.
“He was just a nice, harmless local guy that everyone just knew,” said Councilman Tim Curtin. “Anybody who lived in Colonial Beach for any length of time knew who he was.”
Atwell moved in with Donald and Susie Foster and their four children in 1966. Atwell was Donald Foster’s first cousin. Susan Foster, her two daughters and a son-in-law were with Atwell when he died in the living-room bed that family had set up for him.
At his funeral, according to Foster, a group sang Atwell’s favorite song, “Rock of Ages.” The preacher said Atwell no longer has to worry because he has a golden bicycle in heaven. Those gathered for the ceremony released balloons into the air afterward.
“I am sure he is in heaven riding around on his three-wheeled bike and smiling down on all of us,” Massey said.