In the 1980s, Larry Smith was a REALTOR you wanted on your side. The market looked a lot different than it does today with extremely high interest rates deterring buyers and thinning out home sales. That is, for everyone but Larry. In a world where the average home price neared $50,000, Larry was a multi-million-dollar producer at McGrew Real Estate. A high success rate typically comes with a higher ego, but Larry’s reign over real estate was concentrated in authenticity. True to his humble nature, he continued to drive a tiny, used Honda Civic when escorting clients and colleagues on his signature tour of Lawrence.
“That was one of the things you did when you were a new agent,” says Mike McGrew, Chairman and CEO of McGrew Real Estate. “You got in the car with Larry and let him give you the tour of Lawrence the way he would give it to a customer. You learned so much. He knew everything about every block you were on. It was the reason he turned left instead of right. He had thought it all through and it was a thing of beauty.”
Larry lived in Lawrence his entire life. He was an avid hunter, fisherman, and KU fanatic (“He didn’t think KU could do anything wrong – not even the football team!” says Gary Nuzum, Senior Vice President for New Construction of McGrew Real Estate). With a knack for telling stories, he also loved Motown music, ballpark baseball, and cooking Cajun food. After owning and operating Smith Moving for many years alongside his brother Ethan (“Smitty”), he made the transition to real estate to work side-by-side with lifelong friend John McGrew.
John and Larry knew each other since preschool. John was impressed with Larry from the minute he met the curly-haired, saddle-shoed boy with a natural air of confidence. “He stood out, even then, as a leader,” John wrote for Larry’s eulogy.
In his 20 years working for McGrew Real Estate, Larry garnered a reputation of professionalism, eventually earning the title of partner. “People always knew that he was genuine and sincere, that he was giving it to them straight, and they accepted it. He was just the real deal,” says Gary.
A true what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy, Larry’s genuineness gravitated others to him. Agents learned from him and benefitted from his straightforward nature. “It wasn’t mean. It wasn’t brutal,” says Mike. “He had the confidence and the credibility, and you were silly if you didn’t pay attention to him and his track record.”
Larry proved that fostering common ground with clients was a way to gain trust on each side. He wasn’t about wasting time – his clients’ or his own. “If they didn’t follow his orders, his prescription for success, then he would just tell them, ‘You need to go find another agent,’” says Gary. “And they went, ‘Ok, Mr. Smith.’ I don’t know how many times I heard people say, ‘Ok, Larry. We’ll do that.’ After Larry was with somebody for 30 minutes, they didn’t want to be with anyone else. They would do what he said needed to be done.”
Eddie Davalos, Technology Specialist for McGrew Real Estate, asserts that Larry was one of the most revered people in the company. “I’ve been here 37 years and I can’t remember anybody else that is probably more loved – not because of his accomplishments, but because of who he was.”
An uncomplicated man, Larry was “simple, authentic, and really smart,” according to Mike. That claim was solidified when Gary nicknamed him Dr. K, short for Doctor Knowledge, after a pheasant hunting trip in western Kansas.
Gary, Larry, and their friend Mick Lowe began a drive to the edge of the state near Mick’s hometown, a trek that seemed like it took six days, says Gary. Soon into the trip, Larry begins revealing facts about each town they pass through. Gary and Mick are astonished. Gary bets that Larry couldn’t possibly know about his roots in White Cloud, a small 200-person town in the far northeast corner of the state.
“Damned if he didn’t start rattling off stuff – facts I didn’t even know!” Gary says. “He knew all about the flea markets and about the scenic point. It was just amazing. So, at that point I coined him Doctor Knowledge, and it was such a fitting name because not only did he know about the state, but he knew so much about our business. He was so thorough. So on top of things all the time.”
The knowledge Larry had, mixed with his tremendous work ethic, proved to be an advantage in his real estate career, as he worked as the point-of-contact between local universities to give his tour of Lawrence to hiring candidates. “If there were 10 candidates for one job, and five of them were coming in to be interviewed, they called Larry and asked him to show them around town,” says Eddie. “Four out of five won’t get the job, but one will, and he would be out there happy to help.”
Larry wasn’t particularly a social animal, although it was often required as an agent. He preferred a smaller, intimate group outside of work, and eventually relaxed into an administrative position at McGrew Real Estate in the early 90s. Surprising to others, Larry retired at 55 at the top of the game as one of the biggest producing agents in Lawrence. But he was never happier than he was in the low-pressure environment of putting up signs and delivering contracts, according to Eddie.
“He was much more than a friend,” Eddie says. “He was truly my mentor, and truly took me under his wing and showed love and consideration. He is an example to me of what a true friend and mentor should be.”
Mike says that what he did for him indirectly was more important than anything else. “He and dad were able to work with each other and keep each other going in the right direction because they both had the same trade. Dad would rather be out in the forest somewhere by himself, and I think Larry would be in the next forest with his dog. Probably one of the most important contributions he made was the stability and credibility that he brought to the office.”
New agents coming into the field of real estate can learn a lot from Larry, whose style of selling was genuine and grounded in personal conviction. He not only made the customer comfortable – he made them feel like family. From our McGrew family, and in the words of John McGrew, “Goodbye Larry, we love you, Larry. Thank you for sharing your life with us.”