A Tribute to Bert Lamberth
My mother, Bert Lamberth, was a gift. Everyone sitting here today knows how special she was, but most of you probably did not know her as a young wife and mother. She was really something! Knowing that this day would eventually come, I started writing down memories a couple of years ago with the intention of telling a little bit of her story to you today. Capturing the magnitude of her impact on her family, friends, and this community isn’t possible in a few short pages, but I’ve hit the highlights and I hope that they spark your own memories and smiles in order to keep her warm in our hearts.
Mother grew up in King and Queen County, at Cologne, which is just off the road between Glenns and West Point. She met my father, who grew up not too far away in Gloucester Co., at a church function. If I had to guess, I would say it was probably love at first sight. They married when mother was just 19 and she quickly moved to Richmond to be with him.
Mother worked as a secretary for one of the vice-Presidents at the Phillip Morris Company while Daddy was in medical school at MCV. After med school he entered the army, as most young men did, and was sent to New Orleans for training. Mother got to go with him and they shared a very small apartment with another couple. As training came to an end, with deployment on the horizon, mother returned back to Virginia, pregnant with their first child. Daddy was able to get back to Virginia for a few hours in order to see his newborn son and then immediately shipped out to Europe.
Mother and Fred lived with her parents in Cologne for 18 months while Daddy was a front line doctor during the Battle of the Bulge and other European fronts. After the war they settled in Richmond, where Daddy opened a family practice with a good friend. Eventually Mother and Daddy decided that they wanted to raise their family in the country. They fell in love with Kilmarnock and in 1947 Daddy opened a general practice here. In the early days Mother worked as his receptionist and kept the office running. In 1952 he opened the Kilmarnock Clinic. Shortly after his 80th birthday, some 46 years later, he retired in 1998.
During that time, mother spent her days playing the role of the quintessential southern lady. She enjoyed everything! As a child I remember her being a whirlwind of energy. It’s hard to say what she should be remembered for most—so I’ll just say family, friends, flowers and food.
A Bert & Joe Lamberth party invitation was treasured. Parties were always at home and she did all the food and decorating herself. Often a series of four or five parties were given over the course of a week and rarely did anyone send their regrets. These parties went on for years. As a child I remember her Holly Ball intermission parties at our home in Kilmarnock. Back then the Holly Ball dance was at the Kilmarnock School and at intermission many left and came to our house. I can’t tell you how many times I heard people say that they only went to the Holly Ball so they could go to Bert’s party. As a young girl, not allowed to go to the ball, I got to stay up late and pass food and admire the beautiful dresses. Of course no one was prettier or more glamorous than my mother.
I could not even begin to come up with the number of wedding receptions that mother decorated and catered. I imagine there are some here today who remember mother working her magic to make their reception beautiful and/or delicious. At my own wedding reception, which was at our home in Kilmarnock for roughly 400 people, mother did all the food. It was her crowning achievement—the party for which she had been training all of her life. I got to pick the dresses and she got to pick everything else. Not that I minded—I knew she would make it spectacular so I just let her do what she did best. She even arranged the flowers for the reception. While she didn’t do the flowers for the church, you better believe that she worked closely with Weldon Moore to make sure they were exactly right. When the cake arrived, a week early, she was actually happy. It wasn’t decorated just the way she wanted it so the mix-up gave her the opportunity to art direct the final piece. When Jack Winters brought the new cake a week later, it was perfect.
Flowers were one of my mother’s passions. While she was not a big gardener, she was one of the best flower arrangers in the area. An active member of the Kilmarnock Garden Club for many years, she shared her talent with her fellow club members and the community at large. Yards and yards of clothesline crossed our garage—not for clothes—but to dry flowers for her winter arrangements. A friend of mine told me that one day, many years ago, she saw my mother’s car on the side of the road. She pulled over to see if mother needed any help but no one was in the car. She wasn’t quite sure what to do until she spotted Mother coming across the field with her arms laden down with Queen Anne’s Lace, black eyed Susan’s, and other wonderful wildflowers. My friend said she drove on off. She knew Mother was just fine.
Whenever someone was needed to plan or chair an event at church, school, or one of the many local organizations or clubs of which my parents were members, mother was often the first person called. I don’t really remember room mothers from my time in school, but my mother was always there—helping with parties, selling things, and decorating for dances. If it needed to get done, she did it. I was particularly fond of the decorations she created for my class’s homecoming princess car. She did them every year and they were always creative and beautiful. At my 45th class reunion, mother let us use her membership at Indian Creek Country Club for the party. With all she did for our class over the years it was fitting that she was still helping us have a party, at 90 years old. But it didn’t stop there. When my children were in school she was the go-to decorating and baking grandmother—pulling up in her station wagon and unloading flower arrangements for events and baked goods for bake sales. She and my father were always at the school’s covered dish dinners for parents and were the first ones to buy tickets to the fundraising events (which she attended only after spending all day decorating them, of course.) Even after my children finished Chesapeake Academy she continued to be involved with the school. Mother spent several years attending grandparents’ day as an adoptive grandparent to children who didn’t have their own.
While she shied away from being my brownie or girl scout leader, (I don’t think camping was quite her idea of a good time) she was the one who often arranged the snacks, helped with the cookie sales and drove to events. Her Lemon Chess Pie was selected to represent our scout troop in a national Girl Scout Cookbook.
This church was a big part of my parent’s life. Mother served on the committee to plan this sanctuary, as well as many other committees since becoming a member in 1947. The Christmas Bazaar was mother’s pet project for many years. We figure at least 200 of Mother’s famous gold angles were sold during the years and people stood in line every time to get one. They were quite a production. She would start off making them in the basement at home and eventually moved them up to the dining room table for finishing touches. She did about 25 to 30 for each bazaar. Daddy called them “the girls”.
While Daddy started the, now famous, Methodist Men’s spaghetti supper, and chaired it until his death, Mother was right downstairs with him making the sauce and cooking the spaghetti ahead of time. When the participants started to arrive Daddy would stay in the kitchen to oversee the sauce while mother moved over to sell desserts. Of course, a lot of them came from her own kitchen.
When my husband and I started the Rappahannock River Waterfowl Show mother was right there helping with the decorations and continued to do-so until just a few years ago. For the first 20+ years she and I also did all of the food for an exhibitor party for about 150 people. I don’t know what we would have done without her. She just had a way of making things happen.
Mother loved her friends and was ready to help whenever someone was sick or there was a death in a friend’s family. She would head straight to the house to do whatever was needed. At Christmas she gave baskets full of her homemade jams, jellies and pickles topped off with one of her homemade fruit cakes to friends and neighbors. She probably made over 30 of these cakes each year. I didn’t particularly care for them but, since they were soaked in Brandy, I imagine they were gobbled up pretty willingly. In later years the fruit cakes were replaced with cranberry coffeecakes and she continued to give them as gifts well into her 80’s.
When my brother and I both left home I think my father felt a little bit of the empty nest syndrome, but not my mother. She stayed too busy! And when she was missing me, she jumped in the car with her good friend, Kitty Sprigg, and would show up at Mary Baldwin for a visit—often unannounced! When grandchildren came along she had even more to do—and she just loved everything about being a grandmother.
Mother loved color. In her later years I would take her shopping and would pull out muted jackets and outfits for her. I’d look over at Mother and she would have bright red or royal blue or busy colorful prints in her hands. Needless to say that’s what she bought. Today my daughter and I are wearing bright colors in her honor. That’s what she would have chosen.
Mother and daddy loved to travel and did so quite a bit in both this country and abroad. However, being home was always the best, especially with family around. Their dream home on Dymer Creek was their haven and their solace. They cherished it, along with the family, friends, love, and memories that filled it.
Thank you, Mother. I hope you are now surrounded by beautiful flowers, great food, and are in the arms of the love of your life, your Joe.
We all love you and miss you already.