Person of the Week
‘Newcomer’ John lambert Dedicates Years of Service to North Haven
Attorney John Lambert grew up in California and has lived in North Haven for the past 40 years, serving the town in a number of ways throughout that time. (Photo courtesy of John Lambert )
While John Lambert may have lived in North Haven longer than many people in town, having moved here 40 years ago, he still refers to himself as a “newcomer.” John came to town in 1980, moving to be with his new wife’s father, who was in failing health after his mother-in-law passed away.
“[My wife] Pam was born here and has lived in this house on the green for longer than anyone in history has lived on the green,” says John. “Second place is Reverend Trumbull, who’s only lived here for 60 years [in the 1800s]. My wife has him beat by almost 10 years, so I’m a newcomer. When I came to town, I was introduced to townsfolk as Pam’s husband. Now 40 years later, I’m not John Lambert, I’m Pam’s husband.”
John was born and raised on the outskirts of Los Angeles, noting with a chuckle that he moved east for college—11 miles east to what was then known at Claremont Men’s College (now known as Claremont McKenna College), which he notes is consistently ranked in the top 10 small liberal arts colleges in the country. John studied political science, economics, and philosophy.
Despite studying several different areas, John still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for his career. He recalls a lesson he learned from his dad, who was an “inventor who was self-schooled” and consulted on projects such as creating the tornado in the Wizard of Oz movie, air distribution systems on rockets at Cape Canaveral, and attractions at Epcot.
“He knew what he wanted to do when he was 10 years old and I didn’t, but he taught me lots of things,” says John. “He taught me to fall in love with anything I do.”
John found his passion at the University of Southern California Law School. He was particularly influenced by a professor who taught land use and land development. John not only fell in love with law at USC, it’s also where he met Pam, who was studying film as one of only three female students in the cinema production program.
“When I saw her I was smitten like a thunderbolt—not only was I smitten by her beauty, but I was fascinated by her creativity,” says John. “The arts are not like the law and I said, ‘I could spend a lot of time with her.’”
The two have certainly spent a lot of time together since then and celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary in September. They lived in Los Angeles near campus for two years and John began to practice law before the couple moved back to Pam’s childhood home. John immediately found his place in North Haven.
“I’m glad she wanted to come back because I like North Haven, Connecticut, and New England,” says John. “In L.A. County alone, there were 40,000 lawyers and there were less than 10,000 in all of Connecticut at that time. I also practice in a niche area and there are only a few land use lawyers. It’s a small fraternity and sorority and they get along fairly well. I find that community is important thing to have, whether a church or a club or a profession, community is the key.”
In addition to finding a community in his profession, John found his way into his new hometown’s community as well. Right after moving to town, he registered to vote and then went upstairs to see then-first selectman Walter Gawrych.
Gawrych asked John to join the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). John accepted and less than a year later, he was elected chairman of the ZBA, holding the position for a couple years. Gawrych then asked him to be on the Board of Education (BOE) in March 1985. In 1987, the former chairman retired and John was elected, serving 24 years under four different first selectmen.
“I said to [Gawrych], ‘I didn’t move 3,000 miles to do nothing—I want to be of service to the town in any way you want me to,’” John says “With the ZBA, you’re either Santa Claus or the Grinch and each person that you deal with treats you personally, they’re either grateful to you or hate you personally, but with the BOE, half the people in town will say you’re spending too much money and half the people in town will say you’re not spending enough money, but they will all agree that I’m spending it wrong. They might consider me a nincompoop, but not personally. They still think, ‘John is a nice guy, but on the BOE he’s all wrong.’”
When Mike Freda was elected first selectman in 2009, John felt it was time to step away. As a BOE member, he felt that superintendents made their marks on the district by the principals and teachers they hired and felt the same was to be said for those appointed to positions by the first selectman.
“I said to Mike, ‘I may not be old, but I am old for this job and it’s time to get some new blood,’” John says. “I remain ready and willing to serve the town in any way possible, but the BOE is in my rearview.”
John spent more than two decades dedicated to serving the BOE and attending meetings on the second Thursday of every month. When he retired from the BOE, he wanted to make the most of his found time.
“I said to my wife, ‘For 24 years, I went to the BOE meetings on Thursday nights so now, let’s have a date night on that Thursday for the next 24 years.”
John and his wife have kept up on their date nights for the past 10 years, though the time has not been without its challenges. Last year, John suffered a stroke, losing his ability to talk. When he went to therapy, he was given an iPad to communicate and his therapist encouraged him to try to talk.
“If you ask around town, I’m known for talking a lot, so that was the irony of my stroke,” says John. “My therapist said, ‘You have a great spirit, you’re motivated, and you have a sense of humor about this, but try to talk,’ and I spelled, ‘You will regret your wish when I talk because once I start talking, I will never shut up,’ and I haven’t.
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .