During SXSW in 2019, Lori Hawkins with Michelle Breyer on South Congress in Austin, courtesy photo

When Lori Hawkins joined the Austin American Statesman in 1994 to cover technology, the city looked vastly different from what it does today.

Dell was just ten years old at the time. It was the dawn of the information age, an economy built on computers, software, and the commercial Internet.

For the next three decades, Lori would write stories that chronicled Austin’s technology industry’s growth, contraction, and development. She grew to know about everyone in the Austin technology community, from venture capitalists to angel investors, entrepreneurs, public relations experts, and tech executives. She even founded Naturally Curly with Michelle Breyer and Gretchen Heber. But while Breyer and Heber would pursue the startup full-time, Lori stayed at the Statesman.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that Hawkins, 57, died Thursday after complications from a medical procedure. She is survived by her husband, Paul Sunby, and her daughter, Sora Sunby, and son, Will Sunby.

“Lori was such a legend in the Austin business community,” said Breyer, the chief marketing officer for SKU, Austin’s consumer-packaged goods accelerator. “She was a highly respected, award-winning business reporter who chronicled every twist and turn of Austin’s growth into a major business hub. She was universally loved and will be missed by so many people. I have known her for three decades and was so honored to have her as a friend.”

Lately, Lori has reported on the profound changes in Austin, including the departure of several Austin establishments on Congress Avenue, like Tesoros Trading Company and Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, and the Austin American Statesman campus closure at Lady Bird Lake. She also wrote about newcomers to South Congress, like Austin-based Tecovas. She lived in South Austin and witnessed the changes firsthand.

Lori also “oversaw the publication of the Statesman’s TechMonday section, including editing the work of a five-person team and freelance writers,” according to her LinkedIn profile. She also helped the paper launch 512Tech.com, a website that covered technology startups, and contributed stories and videos to that project.

Serial Entrepreneur William Hurley, known as Whurley, worked with Lori on all his startups and considered her a friend.

“I owe a great deal to Lori Hawkins,” said Hurley, co-founder and CEO of Strangeworks, a quantum computing startup. “She was one of my favorite people. She was a dear friend and a huge supporter of all my crazy ideas. Without Lori, I don’t think that Chaotic Moon, Team Chaos, Honest Dollar, or even Strangeworks I’m running now would be where they were. She breathes life into startups. She supports founders of all types and backgrounds, and she was a staple in reporting on Austin tech and will be sorely missed.”

Preston James, Founder and CEO of DivInc, an accelerator for women and people of color, saw Lori as a voice for underrepresented founders in Austin.

“Lori focused on inclusivity in the ecosystem, which made us feel welcome and gave us visibility, and for that, I’ve always appreciated what she’s done,” James said. “She brought eyes and attention to DivInc and what we’ve been doing. She was one of the early ones that did that for us.”

Jenn Gooding, CEO of Narwhal Media Group, a public relations firm, recalled that when she struck out on her own in 2013, Lori was the first reporter she worked with when she was on the fence as to whether she wanted to continue in the field after having dealt with many (unnecessarily) rude business reporters.

“As I waited nervously with my client at the coffee shop on Congress, in walks this confident but warm woman that just put us both instantly at ease,” Gooding said. “She was kind and gracious, but when she left quickly, we both felt a little baffled…how on earth could she have gotten what she needed that quickly to create a good story? Nobody is THAT good, we said, waiting anxiously until the paper came out. The story turned out perfect, as did all the others we worked on over the years together, including the last one she ever wrote.”

Gooding’s client is Vendidit. Lori’s last story was on Billionaire John Paul Dejoria’s AI-powered startup, Vendidit, a software platform for the secondary market for retail returns.

“As the next generation of our community journalists learn their craft, I hope they work to embody the qualities that Lori gifted to Austin,” Gooding said.

Lori was a constant force of accurate, fair, and complete coverage of the technology space in Austin for decades, said John Berkowitz, founder of OJO Labs. He posted the Austin American Statesman story about her sudden death to LinkedIn and wrote:

“What a loss for our community. Lori Hawkins was one of the first to cover OJO and Movoto and stayed with us till today. The journalists who tell our stories and ask us the hard questions are a critical component of the success of Austin’s tech ecosystem, and Lori was one of the best. She will be dearly missed! Our Hearts go out to her family and colleagues.”

More than 20 people, primarily other Austin tech entrepreneurs, commented on the post, expressing their sadness at her death.

One of Berkowitz’s first conversations on the launch of OJO was with Lori.

“And from the first moment I met her, I felt the care and effectiveness of her tact,” Berkowitz said. “On every big milestone of the business, I knew Lori would be there to ask questions that mattered and tell the facts that she believed the community needed to know. The next big announcement of OJO won’t be the same without the conversation with Lori.”

Amber Gunst, who worked with Lori on several stories while she was the CEO of the Austin Technology Council, called Lori “the consummate professional. She was a real reporter. She didn’t sugarcoat anything, but she also didn’t do gotcha journalism. And she was always just absolutely a stellar person to have a conversation with and to do an interview with. I can’t think of anybody in Austin that supported tech or tech organizations more than Lori.”

David Altounian, an Austin entrepreneur for 30 years who moved to Rhode Island last year, was so sad to hear the news. He often talked to Lori at events like SXSW, tech meetups, and parties.

“Lori was always great to talk to about happenings in Austin, and we would generally gossip about people, companies, or subjects we both knew,” Altounian said. “Lori was always so positive, and I always felt that she wanted the best for Austin and its entrepreneurs. Not that she shied from tough stories or asking tough questions, but she acted as if she were invested in the community and its members. Instead of outside it.”

“To me, it wasn’t just a passing of a journalist; she covered an amazing time of growth and opportunity in Austin when Austin was struggling to build the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and her passing marks another Austin connection to that time that is no longer there for me,” Altounian said.

Richard Bagdonas said Lori was like a mind reader and was on top of the latest news.

 “As I was writing the Dark Ages of Austin Startup Capital, Lori had started working on a piece for the state of the Austin venture capital industry and pinged me to talk about it,” he said. “When I started MI7, she knew about it before anyone else.”

Barbary Brunner said that Lori was one of the essential sources of knowledge about the tech scene in Austin.

“Through my tenure as CEO of the Austin Technology Council, she and I had many frank conversations about the ecosystem and about being women in the ecosystem,” Brunner said. “She was an astute and generous guide, and her passing is a loss to the industry in so many ways.”