So I have this terrific, tall, lean, wry pal — Arthur Lambert — one of whose several portraits by David Hockney you see here.
Recently, he wrote to say he’d been badgered into writing something for his college reunion.
My class is doing a 60th anniversary yearbook, although for the life of me I can’t imagine why. All my class is over 80 and practically dead. Isn’t it a little late for such a compendium? In any event, the Yearbook people have been unrelenting in torturing me for this thing. I had no idea what to write. They said we could include political views, grandchildren, but we must note classmates whom we particularly admire. Other than Robert Caro, my class has Carl Icahn, but do I admire him? Anyway, here is the result of my efforts. I thought you might like it.
I did — and got his permission to share it with you. I thought you might enjoy meeting him. A family snapshot in two minutes.
ARTHUR LAMBERT, CLASS OF 1957
My father, Princeton Class of 1922, practiced law in Washington, D.C. He was an attorney, his father (class of 1874) was an attorney, and his father as well. He hoped that either I or my brother (class of 1949) would land in the firm, but we escaped. My father had contacts with various Agency directors and used to play golf with Stansfield Turner, Director of the CIA. Once to arrange a golf date, my father had his secretary phone Turner’s office but was put on hold for so long she forgot she had initiated the call. She picked up the receiver lying on her desk to check who was on the phone and heard “Central Intelligence.” With conviction, she replied, “You must have the wrong number. There’s no intelligence here. This is a lawyer’s office.”
While I didn’t completely agree with this assessment, I tried law school for two years but was then offered the opportunity to work as a foreign correspondent for a 2nd class newspaper. I thought it was too good a chance to pass up and a great excuse to depart from law school.
After that it was the Army*, and then four years of working in the UK in a financial firm. Upon return a high school classmate and I took over a failing savings and loan in Maryland and recapitalized it. The first few years, growth was slow and I left the bank in the hands of my partner while l moved to California to run two answering services with live operators. We had all the stars. The girls knew more about Joan Crawford’s activities than Christina did even though listening was not permitted. However, this was a business soon to be eliminated by technology. While in California I met the English painter, David Hockney, and the only fame I have managed is to be drawn or painted by him numerous times. That is a little concerning as he always points out, “I don’t flatter.” After four years I returned to the bank and stayed until we were bought out for a small profit in the 1980’s after almost being destroyed by the rise in rates during that time and the resulting partial collapse of the savings and loan industry.
As I was living in NYC, I stayed at my parents when I was in Maryland working at the bank. In the 1980’s my father was having problems with his sight which was affecting his driving. The only way he could renew his driver’s license was by getting an optometrist to certify his vision. To achieve this he had found some optometrist in MS willing to affirm his vision without an examination. While he drove very slowly he would often bump into the rear of other cars when they halted at a stop sign. For this he kept a checkbook in his glove compartment and would write the driver a $500 check. When the accountant asked what all these $500 checks were he wouldn’t say. My friends were always after me to find out his route. Another time he remarked that he was amazed how many people seemed to know him, as, when he was driving, people would constantly honk and wave at him. I pointed out this was because he drove in the middle lane over the double yellow line so no one could get by him. Everything changed when he got his cataracts removed, however. I asked him if he were driving more comfortably. He assured me it was much better. He said, “Now, I can finally see what I am running into.”
My father was devoted to Princeton. He and my Mother were obsessed with books and my Mother had a large library. As a child I was often ill so I was at home and accessed her library from a young age. However, all her books were about famous women in history, Elizabeth the Great, Catherine of Russia, Madame Curie, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. It wasn’t until I was about eleven that I discovered that men had also done things. I think this childhood experience and the years at Princeton stimulated a life long interest in learning. I often have the desire to be back studying and discussing – so many things, how would Nixon have handled the Bay of Pigs or the Cuban missile crisis? My speculations are endless even though I realize in this case there are no answers. Works such as those by classmate Robert Caro make life even more interesting. I like the saying attributed to various people including Plato and Ghandi which directs, “Live life as if you are going to die tomorrow. Learn as if you are going to live forever.” Phyllis Diller said she didn’t know who else would miss her, but she knew she would miss herself when she died. I will probably miss myself but I’ll also miss Robert Caro. I’m waiting for his next volume.
Have a great weekend!
*As for that, Arthur tells me, “I had a strange experience when I showed up for active duty at the American base in Frankfurt. When I entered headquarters I noticed a very cute boy scrubbing the floor before I went off to the duty clerk for assignment. The duty clerk turned out to have an obvious interest in me so I got cushy assignments. The kid scrubbing the floor had been caught by the MP’s a few days before [doing something untoward] and this was his punishment. No expulsion then. Remember my service was in the late 1950’s, long before “don’t ask.” Practically the whole headquarters staff was gay and every night we exited to go to a gay dance bar in Karlsruhe. The only guy left in the barracks always wanted to know how come everyone was so busy every night and he was just sitting around. At the club it was an eye opener for me to see American military officers dancing with each other. I really had had little experience in the whole scene by this point so I was transfixed. It reminds me of James Lord, My Queer War. He was busier than me as I never did anything at that point but look.”
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