Memorial Service Celebrating the Life of Sharon Lambert
at Converse College
September 26, 2017
Sometimes there are giants whose footprints in the sand last long after they have left the beach. Sharon Lambert was one. Her legacy, her imprint will long live in the Converse pantheon of luminaries. With proper appreciation for many others who have gone before, Sharon was simply in an elite category. I’m going to speak personally about this.
When I arrived at Converse in Fall 1976, I knew very little about a small liberal arts college. All my academic experience had been at large universities. And certainly I did not know or understand a women’s college. I came directly from a predominantly male environment in Europe. I viewed this sojourn in the South as transitional. I would be here a few years and then move on, either back to my native Midwest or into Administration. To a major extent it is because of Sharon that I am now in my 42nd year.
I wanted to be a star and when I looked around that first year, I identified two nova’s above all others—Joe Ann Lever and Sharon Lambert. I’ve spoken about Joe Ann in this very place and context before. It was clear to me that Sharon was the epitome of a small college professor and what one should be at Converse. I discerned her reputation as a teacher quickly. She had won the Kathyrne Amelia Brown Award for teaching the Spring before I arrived. I saw what students thought about her, and I witnessed her dedication and work ethic. Immediately she became someone that I modeled after. I could not have chosen better. It wasn’t very long before I realized that I wanted to be what Sharon was, and my commitment to the small college, a women’s college, and Converse grew in no small part from her example. To the extent that I may have had any value at this place, credit Sharon Lambert.
I also observed the relationship between Jerry and Sharon–the camaraderie, the trust, the mutuality of standards, the family relationship, the expectation of excellence–and I knew what a department should be. That became my model, and when my time came to lead a department, I had a standard to emulate.
Sharon was a mentor in other ways as well. She was the first head of the freshman honors program, and I taught in that program from the beginning. I learned about being an honors teacher from her. When I became Sharon’s successor as head of freshman honors, she was always the first person that I approached to teach in the program. When I created July Term, an alumnae program under Summer Programs, Sharon taught a course every year. We openly competed for who would be the most popular professor in that program each year. We challenged each other in many other ways as well—for students, for awards, for who got the biggest raises. The latter, she generally won. Sharon knew everything that transpired on campus. She was a fountain of inside information, insight, and gossip. We each had our networks and we pooled information. But she was truly the guru of Kuhn (where the sciences were located in those days). If Sharon didn’t know it, then no one did.
Sharon had been Senate President. On my first day on the Senate, she wasn’t on the body that year, but she had come to the first meeting after the new elections for some other business. When she walked into the room for the organizational meeting, someone nominated her to be Senate President again and the acclamation process was well along before Sharon was able to remind the body that she wasn’t a senator. I became the much-less-enthusiastic selection, and Sharon kidded me that I was second choice to someone not even on the Senate. She was right. I went to her for advice on being president many times during my three years in that role. She was always my, she was everyone’s, go-to person over a whole range of issues. I served on many committees with Sharon. She was one of the best committee members that any of us ever served with. She knew the institution and the work of the college was her passion. She was especially good on hiring committees because she had a strong sense of what the college was and what kind of faculty we should recruit. She was clear, straightforward, and unwavering in that conviction.
I consulted Sharon a lot for advice. The one that I will never forget was in my first or second year (I believe) when I was quite naïve about such things, I had a student that was engaging in what today would be considered overt sexual harassment–provocative dress, suggestive behavior, unmistakable actions, even unveiled overtures. Frankly, I didn’t know how to handle it. I was embarrassed to confront the girl and I really didn’t know what to do if I did. I went to see Sharon, and without going into detail, let me simply say that she took care of the matter for me. She had been an undergraduate at a women’s college, she had witnessed this type of behavior before, and she had no patience for it. Sharon in no manner was a prude or an ideologue of any strip. She was popular with both female and male colleagues in most any situation; but she had a strong sense of decorum, and when she spoke anyone with good sense listened.
The year that Sharon served as Interim VP for Student Affairs was a most interesting one. The class recruited that year was not the most stellar in the history of the college, and Sharon probably dealt with more disciplinary actions than any person who ever held the position. An undue percentage of the cases had some connection to me—my advisees, students in my classes, or in some other manner. John Theilmann reports that Sharon once rolled her eyes and remarked, “It’s another Joe Dunn case.” Believe me, I spent a lot of time with her that year, and were it appropriate, I could entertain you with a small sampling of the bizarre things with which we dealt. Sharon could have had a career in Student Affairs. She was good at it; but she was more than ready to leave it behind.
Among my many associations with Sharon, two rise to the top. We were both on the five-person steering committee of the SACS Self Study in 1984-86, on which we had some fun adventures, and we were the co-directors of the Self Study in 1993-96. We were a perfect team, but indeed the odd couple. Sharon was in charge of most things and I was the writer. This was long before Google Docs. We spent so much time on the phone each evening that my wife said that we were like two teenagers. I would write and read to Sharon as she added to and corrected details. But we were indeed the odd couple. Sharon went to bed very early, like 9:00 p.m. and she got up early, like 5:00 a.m. I stayed up late, well into the night regularly, and when I was writing would easily go to 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. One night fairly early in our working together, I had a question and called her just a little after 9:00 p.m. Sharon informed me that she was in bed. I pushed that I really needed the answer to my question (because I planned to be writing for several more hours). Somewhat testily, she responded that she would get back to me in the morning. And she, at 5:00 a.m. I had been in bed only a few hours. She had made her point; we worked out the parameters of our different lifestyles and it was a productive relationship.
Sharon was dedicated totally to Converse. There was only one thing higher on her scale—her parents. No parents ever adored their child more, and it was reciprocal. She spent each summer with them at the South Jersey shore. The beach was Sharon’s vision of heaven.
Sharon retired early, way too early. With health concerns for herself and her parents, she wanted to have adequate years to spend with her parents while she could. With her father’s death, Sharon’s life revolved around taking care of her mother. As her mother became more and more elderly, this restricted and confined the parameters of Sharon’s life. Sharon was a social person who increasingly became homebound. One must honor that dedication and sacrifice. Her mother died this past February, and cancer, which Sharon had beaten back years before, resurfaced. Sharon was quite prepared to join her mother. She lived the final months with the kind of dignity that every one of us should display at the end of our lives.
I began these remarks with a beach metaphor. Sharon has now passed to heaven’s version of the South Jersey shore, alongside her parents whom she so cherished. But in this human existence, her footprints in the sand are indelible, and what she left us are not whimsical sand castles that erode, but contributions to the permanent foundations of this place. In the history of chemistry at this institution, in the College as whole, and in the lives of those of us who knew her—as well as those who did not know her but benefit from her years of service–Sharon Lambert will always be a giant.