Sunday, January 06, 2008

Goodbye, Mr. Lambert

Houlton, Maine is a town of 5,200 located at the end of I-95, 2 hours north of Bangor and on the border with New Brunswick. It is the seat of Aroostook County (know as “The County” to all in Maine), which is by far the largest county in the state and is known for forests, lakes, few roads, seemingly endless potato fields, the French language and border crossings into Canada. It is what Bryce Lambert referred to as “God’s Country”, and it is where he was born and where he died. He was in physical and mental decline at the end, and was a nursing home resident.

I made the trip to Houlton on January 4, 2008 with Rick Warren; native of Bangor, several generation owner/publisher of the Bangor Daily News, Deerfield class of ’63, and, according to Bryce Lambert, “not a very good croquet player”. Rick and Beth Warren had hosted a dinner for BVL a few years back that included his “scholars” Whitney Azoy ‘58 (former diplomat in Afghanistan), Jo Ann and Robert Clough ’69, and Republican Senator Susan Collins (BVL: “I am of course a democrat....”). We ALL addressed the honored guest as “Mr. Lambert” through the course of that evening.

Houlton is small enough so that we could interrupt a local citizen’s snow shoveling to obtain detailed directions to the funeral home, which is across from the town hall and looks and feels like a farmhouse. The thirty or forty in attendance were mostly members of his extended family but included 6 former students. A Deerfield banner was prominently displayed over the small box engraved with “Bryce Voter Lambert”, which was surrounded by miniature books of poetry, history and Shakespeare. Easels displayed photos of family, friends and students with Mr. Lambert, and a table held several notebooks of saved letters from former scholars. His L.L. Bean overcoat and his Brooks Brothers raincoat were on display. Prominent were photos of Mr. Lambert’s trip to Jordan, where he was royally hosted by former student King Abdullah II. Speakers included Jay and Mimi Morsman, 2 former students and members of his family. One of his nephews and a niece made it clear that Mr. Lambert’s teaching and style were also of great importance to many outside the Deerfield community. A eulogy was delivered by the local pastor. There was of course humor, but also heartfelt respect, love and sadness expressed. The pastor was careful to correct his grammar and eliminated every “very” from his talk. This was after witnessing a perforated essay held up by Marshall Peck ’70 showing the effects of the “very cutter”. It was a simple and brief gathering, but the representation by multiple generations of students from as far away as Missouri gave added meaning to the continued importance of Mr. Lambert in the lives of so many of us. I think he might have smiled.

When I arrived in Bangor in 1987 a letter from Mr. Lambert appeared welcoming me to “God’s Country” and telling me of the mermaids that he saw on his lawn on the coast. When I performed surgery on one of his older brothers Mr. Lambert appeared and gave glowing reports to my nurses about his former scholar (maybe because I was able to recite “Richard Cory” to him at his brother’s bedside). When I wrote my father’s obituary it was cut out and enclosed in a letter with compliments (and no corrections!) from Mr. Lambert. When his own health began to fail, he enclosed his medical reports for my opinion (which I doubt affected any of his decisions). When he told me of plans for his remains to be in the cemetery at Deerfield, he requested that former scholars recite poetry over the site, and promised to not correct us. When he died I was left with a profound sense of loss and a renewed appreciation for my good fortune at having been his student. More than anyone, he embodied for me all that was fine about the unique educational experience that is Deerfield Academy.

Robert A. Clough ‘69