By all accounts, Paul Laursen had an infectious laugh that everyone around town knew. Whether you saw him at a civic association, historical society, Chamber of Commerce or Kiwanis meeting, he was always smiling, laughing, and sitting front and center in the audience.
A community fixture and a longtime reporter and photographer, Laursen was the editor of the Merrick and Bellmore Life newspapers, which were purchased by Richner Communications, the parent company of the Herald Community Newspapers, in 2013.
Laursen died on Nov. 15, in his North Bellmore home, of ongoing medical problems. He was 67.
Laursen’s family has long been known around Merrick and Bellmore. His parents, Faith and Johannes Laursen, purchased the Merrick Life in 1958, 20 years after the paper was founded. They started the Bellmore Life in the 1960s, at the request of the community, and owned the Wantagh-Seaford Citizen and Freeport Baldwin Leader newspapers as well, which were also bought by Richner in 2013.
The Laursens passed the newspapers down to Paul and his sister, Linda Toscano, who served as their publisher. Their brother, John Laursen, is a professor at the University of California, Riverside, and lives there with his family.
Born on Dec. 5, 1954, Paul Laursen grew up in Rockville Centre and was a proud graduate of South Side High School. Much of his childhood was spent in the Life’s office, where he developed a love for news writing and photography, which led him to study journalism at American University in Washington, D.C. He graduated in 1977.
Richard Kessel, former CEO of the New York Power Authority, current chairman of the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency and a longtime Merrick resident, recalled getting to know Laursen as a boy. When Kessel was a student at Sanford H. Calhoun High School, he worked as a cub reporter for Laursen’s parents.
“I remember him as a kid — that’s how long we knew each other,” Kessel told the Herald last week. “I got to know him as a reporter. For many years, he covered my career, really from the time I got into government and politics.
“He was a good reporter, a thorough reporter and a fair reporter,” Kessel added. “I think his parents would’ve been very proud of him. He got his facts straight, he asked lots of questions, and that’s all you can ask of a journalist. He was a true journalist.”
Toscano said that her brother was always involved in family gatherings, and that he loved the beach as much as he loved New York City. “He never wanted to live anywhere but Long Island,” she said, “where he could go to the beach and city when he wanted to.”
The newspapers’ office was Laursen’s home away from home, Toscano said. “As editor of the newspaper, that was his second family,” she said. “He spent many hours there, in the office or out in the community.”
He was more than a writer, his sister added, always offering his help to anyone in town. Outside Merrick, Laursen was involved in organizations in Bellmore, Wantagh and Seaford.
Joe Baker, president of the South Merrick Community Civic Association and a board member of the Merrick Chamber of Commerce, said that Laursen was a dear friend for many years. “We conversed almost on a daily basis,” Baker said. “He was a kind person. He never said anything bad about anyone. His laugh was contagious — even from the least-funny joke, he would get hysterical.”
“It made you feel warm, it made you feel comfortable,” Kessel said of Laursen’s laugh. “You were always happy to be in his presence.”
Kessel called Laursen a “walking historian.” “He remembered so much from so many years ago,” Kessel said. “When I dealt with him, he would talk about things that I did 30, 40 years ago. He had a great memory and a great mind — he was very sharp, and very witty.”
Aside from his love of Long Island and New York City, Laursen was an avid traveler, Toscano said. He had traveled around Europe extensively, especially Denmark, and had been on press tours to South Africa and China and on church tours to Ireland, Israel, Egypt, Germany and Mexico.
As he got older, and encountered some health problems, Laursen had trouble driving, and Baker said he would pick him up and take him to community meetings, because he always wanted to remain involved.
“Looking out in the audience, he was always there,” Baker said. “I’ll be missing him at our meetings. It’s hard to believe, and it’s something that’s going to take a while to realize that we’re never going to see him again.”
There was no public wake or funeral for Laursen, but Charles Rosenblum, a Merrick-based lawyer, said that Toscano had made arrangements for a Celebration of Life on Nov. 27, from 3 to 6 p.m., at RS Beanery, a coffee and cocktail café that Laursen frequented. Those who plan to attend can stop by any time to share memories and stories of Laursen, and listen to some of his favorite songs. Guests are asked to wear their favorite band T-shirt or bright colors in his honor. RS Beanery is at 153 Merrick Ave. in Merrick.
Toscano added that her daughter is collecting photos and videos of Laursen to create a tribute for family and friends, and that anyone interested in contributing can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“He was like a walking newspaper,” Kessel said of his friend. “He had his pad, he had his camera, and he was very familiar to the community.
“He was part of history,” he added. “He will be really, really missed.”