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Remembering Don Lambert

When I first arrived on campus as a young assistant professor back in 1987, I was assigned an office just a couple doors down the hall from Don. He had been on the faculty for 20 years, and clearly had a seat at the table when it came to shaping the direction of the school. When Don spoke up at meetings, people listened — especially young assistant professors!

As Don’s neighbor and colleague, I learned very quickly that Don had some opinions.

First of all, Don didn’t think much of pointy-headed Ph.D’s. I happened to be working to complete mine when I first arrived.

Don didn’t think too much of computers and that whole Internet thing, when it came along. Of course, I was the person in the mid-1990s who was asked to develop our first web journalism course.

In fact, Don wasn’t too keen on anything new-fangled, which included that brand new form of journalism we call broadcast journalism, which I had been hired to teach when I first arrived. I still have a copy of an old 45 record he gave me of broadcast news bloopers, produced back in the mid-1950s. Those of you who knew Don wont be surprised to know that he not only had such a recording, but could easily put his hands on it.

So, all in all, you might say there were many strikes against me in Don’s view. But again, those of you who knew Don will know that these fundamental differences in perspective didn’t alter how Don treated me, or the rest of his colleagues with whom he may have differed. Don was a gentleman, though he may never have thought of himself as such.

He was a gentleman who loved his family, loved Penn State, and liked a good joke, but keep it clean, please. He was kind of a square, really, but that made students like him even more. Did they love him? I doubt he would have allowed for such silly sentimentality. He’d prefer that they show their affection for him by simply getting the story, and getting it right.

I am very grateful for Don’s penchant for collecting — and then sharing — an eclectic array of publications. As a member of our academic association, Don received — and collected — copies of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, which he donated to Leipzig University’s library when he retired. He delighted in telling me that these journals were “like new.” You see, Don didn’t see great value in reading a bunch of academic research in our field.

And when we decided to put all of the back issues of our alumni magazine online, I was pretty sure Don would have a complete collection. Turns out he had all but one of the issues. These have now all been scanned, indexed, and posted online.

I was sad that Don’s health had declined to the point that he didn’t have the energy to come visit the school in our new digs in Schoonover Center. Of course, Don was non-too-happy that we had uprooted from Scripps. But I realized, as did all of us, I suspect, that Don was failing. I don’t think I did enough to let him know how grateful I am for his many thoughtful gestures, and his wise, grounded views on journalism education. Indeed, Don was always ready to offer good advice.

So in closing, as my way of saying thank you to Don, I want to share two specific tips I learned from him.

First, something very practical. Don taught me how to take a piece of paper, fold it in thirds, to form a makeshift reporters notebook. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve actually used that tip when taking notes during a meeting.

The second piece of advice is more philosophical, something he shared at his retirement dinner, about 15 years ago. He said to remember that we should work to live, not live to work. To make time for family and other non-work related activities in our lives. It was Don’s advice to all of us then, and I think even more so today.

Here’s what the university’s website wrote about Don:

The Ohio University community is mourning the loss of Professor Emeritus of Journalism Donald A. Lambert, 82, who died on Saturday, Jan. 3.

A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, where he earned both a bachelors degree and masters degree in journalism, Lambert served 18 months in the Army before joining the newsroom at the Erie (Pa.) Morning News in 1958. He spent nearly 10 years at the newspaper, serving as a general assignment reporter then as a city government reporter and finally as the editorial page editor, a position that allowed him to frequently pen weekly and daily columns often focusing on government and/or humor.

Lambert brought his passion for news and editorial writing as well as his sense of humor to Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, joining the faculty in 1967. Over the course of the next 30-plus years, Lambert taught hundreds of aspiring journalists in courses that included news writing, editorial writing, column writing and journalism ethics. He retired in 2000 but continued to teach part-time for the next few years.

Don’s former students always will hear echoes of his sage wisdom and advice, grounded in his own real-world experience, said Robert Stewart, director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

Lambert’s support for journalism students extended beyond the classroom and the Athens Campus. He served as an adviser for Ohio University’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) for 24 years and was a member of the organizations national professional development committee for eight years. Lambert helped to lead student delegations to 13 national SPJ conventions and 19 regional conferences, and in 1988 earned the SPJs national Outstanding Campus Adviser Award.

Lambert’s service on the Athens Campus also included many years of coordinating journalism scholarships and serving on The Post Publishing Board, a committee that assists OHIOs independent student-run newspaper in its communication efforts while ensuring that it provides the maximum opportunity for students to develop journalistic experience. In addition, Lambert co-authored the textbook Fundamentals of News Reporting along with his colleagues and fellow Professors Emeriti of Journalism Hugh Culbertson and Ralph Izard, who is also a former director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

I feel very fortunate to have had Don as a colleague for the early years of my teaching career, said Stewart, who joined the faculty at the Scripps College of Communication in 1987. He was a wonderful role model in how to treat your fellow professors, even when you might have disagreements. Hell always be remembered as fair minded, and committed to hearing what you had to say. Don was a wonderful colleague, a gentleman, and a true mentor to those of us who came along afterwards.

A skilled musician who played in both the Penn State Marching and Concert Blue Bands as well as in the U.S. Army band, Lambert would often play with the Communiversity Band during the Under the Elms Summer Concert Series held on Ohio University’s College Green. The band included Ohio University faculty, staff, students and alumni as well as local residents.

Lambert was a member of the Ohio University Emeriti Association, the Penn State Alumni Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity.

Visitation will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 10, at First United Methodist Church, 2 S. College St., in Athens followed by a memorial service at 11 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Schoonover Center 110, Athens, OH 45701 with in memory of Don Lambert in the memo line, or to Best Friends Animal Society at 5001 Angel Canyon Road, Kanab, UT 84741-5000 or at

January 9, 2015

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