Robert M. Lambert, Ph.D., Memorial Award

In 1994 the Psychosocial Services Division of AER established the Robert M. Lambert, Ph.D., Memorial Award as a tribute to the late Robert M. Lambert, Ph.D., of Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The award is presented every two years during the AER International Conference.

Dr. Lambert was a pioneer leader in our profession and it is appropriate that the award be named after him. His widow, Irene Lambert, a former member of AER and of this division, suggested the award following his death in 1990. Members of the division agreed that establishing this award would be a wonderful way to honor Dr. Lambert, as well as other individuals who, over the course of their careers, have set a high standard of direct psychological and educational service to persons with visual impairment – from young children to older adults.

Criterion for the Lambert Award was established by an award committee of the Psychosocial Services Division, which stipulates that the awardee should be someone who is a leader in the profession, a provider of outstanding service in meeting the psychosocial needs of people who are blind and visually impaired, and someone who has made significant contributions to the lives of the professionals working with persons who are blind and visually impaired, as well as to the adults and children who receive these services..

Previous Lambert Award winners:
2012 – Dr. James E. Jan
2010 – Dr. Karen Wolffe
2008 – Bill Brookshire
2006 – Wendy David
2004 – John Morse
2002 – Martha M. Simmons
2000 – Eileen Scott
1998 – Dean Tuttle
1996 – Emerson Folkes
1994 – Joan B. Chase

Mrs. Lambert has often been on hand at the conference to personally make the presentation of the award. She seems very pleased when she is able to do this herself in memory of her late husband. Each winner of the Lambert Award receives a beautiful plaque, inscribed in both print and Braille, as well as a notebook of the published writings of Dr. Lambert, written in the medium most appropriate for the particular winner (regular print, enlarged print, or Braille.)

The notebook given to each Lambert Award winner contains the biography of Dr. Lambert, written by Irene Lambert after his death in 1990. The biography is included below to enable everyone to come to know the remarkable man for whom the award is named.

Robert M. Lambert, Ph.D.
March 16, 1933 – November 12, 1990
 Written by
Irene Lambert (Mrs. Robert M. Lambert)

Born in Philadelphia, he was diagnosed with buthalmus at the age of three months, lost his existing residual vision at the age of six, and after much discomfort and poor health had bilateral enucleation at the age of twelve.

Bob’s parents were divorced when he was three years old and at the age of five he began school at Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia where he graduated from high school in 1952. During his first year at Overbrook, he was tested and evaluated by Mary K. Bowman. She discovered that he had an unusually high I.Q. with excellent verbal skills and ingenuity which his teachers soon discovered. Being a day student with a working mother, he soon learned to travel back and forth to school by subway and trollies on his own. An early sense of independence was developed.

Confidence in his own travel skills became evident when he negotiated an agreement with his mobility instructor that if he could count the pickets of a fence from across the street he would not have to carry a white cane. He won! The insistence of the athletic coach that he persist in training for the wrestling team paid off with several A.A.U. championships and the basis for his scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. A very well-developed physique from the athletic training was always a great source of masculine pride. His desire to become a residential student was realized during high school when loyal friendships were established that were to endure for the rest of his life. Bob’s ability to excel at whatever he attempted, whether it be academics or sports or social relationships seemed coupled with a drive for equality and independence both for himself and other blind people. A remarkable wit and sense of humor were always recognizable characteristics of his personality.

A wrestling scholarship permitted him to enroll in the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania where he majored in insurance underwriting. During his second year, a knee injury at a national tournament forced him to retire from wrestling. He also realized that he hated business studies and sought financial aid from the State Commission for the Blind to transfer to psychology or law. However, the State Commission, in their wisdom, decided they would only support him in business administration to become a manager of a sheltered workshop.

Unwilling to compromise his hopes and dreams, he moved to Miami where his mother was now living. There, he completed his studies for his Baccalaureate degree at the University of Miami, with a major in psychology and mathematics.

In Miami, his sport activities changed from track and field and wrestling to swimming, water skiing and acrobatic diving. Bob was coached in diving by an Olympic gold medalist and soon both coach and student were part of a professional acrobatic team that performed in the major hotels on Miami Beach. Bob’s physical, mental and intellectual prowess, along with his requirements to be accepted on equal terms with others despite his blindness, soon had him appearing as a guest on the Sam Guyson radio talk show to discuss problems of living with blindness in Miami. Concepts of equality and of independence were a philosophy to be put into practice. A newly found blind friend, Bill Scringeour, (from England and under-employed at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind), used a seeing-eye dog named Bubbles and shared Bob’s views and sentiments. Sam Guyson would promote them as ‘The Song, Dance and Snappy-Patter Duo, who may be without sight but are not without vision.’  They became close buddies on and off the air. Soon Bob was converted to the value of using a guide dog. With Bill’s help, Bob trained himself a very loving German shepherd named, Trudy.

After a year of graduate studies in “Foundation of Mathematics” at the University of Chicago, Bob with his trusted companion and guide dog, Trudy, returned to Miami to make a hitch-hiking trip to the famous 1958 N.F.B. Convention in Boston. Together with Bill and Bubbles, Bob and Trudy went from city to city and town to town along the east coast, speaking with Lions Clubs and other groups, to raise support for the Kennedy Barring Bill in Congress. The Bill called for blind persons to have equal rights to organize. Then, at the Convention, a landmark event occurred over an unacceptable policy when Bob made a most memorable speech. He and a number of other members and state chapters ultimately disaffiliated from N. F. B.

The following year Bob was involved with organizing a square dance club for the blind. There, he met the girl with whom he would eventually spend the rest of his life: Irene. That September of 1960, Stanford beckoned and off he went to California to study “Foundations of Mathematics” – only to decide that he could not live without Irene. So, he returned to Miami to marry on Christmas Day and assumed responsibility for his wife and the three sons from her first marriage. While at Stanford, Bob and Irene attended several meetings in San Francisco at the newly formed chapter of A. C. B. The disintegration of the Ph.D. program at Stanford caused Bob to seek employment and he was hired as a mathematical logician at GE TEMPO in Santa Barbara. Now, he was fully employed as a scientist – with a family, holding a mortgage on a new house, and challenging life insurance companies as to why they would require him to pay extra premiums for their policies just because he was blind. His training from Penn in actuarial tables convinced them that he was not going to pay extra for their company’s ignorance.

In Santa Barbara, Bob helped found the New Frontier Club which advocated vigorously for integration in employment and housing, primarily for persons of color. By 1963, the military planning operation at GE TEMPO became a total affront to his scientific integrity. An application and subsequent acceptance to a new doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania in mathematical psychology was the preferred option.

Bob and his family moved back to his beloved Philadelphia. With intensive graduate courses in both math and psychology, he still found time to participate with old Overbrook friends in a new group called Liberty Chapter. His most notable contribution was writing and presenting briefs on transportation, and consulting with legal sources concerning the civil rights aspects of the chapter’s activities. Developing and articulating policy were, clearly, his first love. Liberty Chapter convinced the City of Philadelphia to amend their Human Rights Code to include the words “physical handicap” to their list of antidiscriminatory clauses such as race, creed, religion, etc. They also improved access to recreation programs and reading services for the blind.

It was in Philadelphia that Trudy became too sick to work anymore and Bob returned to traveling again without a dog or a cane. However, a small kennel of golden retrievers in the neighborhood soon attracted Bob’s attention. In consultation with his veterinary friend at the University of Pennsylvania, plus the owner of the kennel, Bob was training the “pick of the litter” puppy to be his next guide dog, which he named Lambda. Two other puppies from that same litter were purchased for guide work by Guiding Eyes for the Blind. A year later, a puppy from the next litter was chosen by Irene, which she trained with Bob’s assistance. Geoffrey Lock, then Director of Training for Guiding Eyes, praised Bob publicly for the quality of the self-trained guide dogs and was quite open to discussing Bob’s concerns about the existing guide dog schools.

It was also during these years in Philadelphia that Bob’s studies in vision and audition rekindled his old research projects in facial perception. With Irene’s eye sight deteriorating from inverse retinitis pigmentosa, his knowledge of light and refractions took them to numerous medical eye clinics, the College of Optometry and optical companies, trying to promote new ideas for developing lenses that would be of greater value for persons with diminished central vision. As a graduate student at Penn, he was instrumental in setting up a pool of volunteer readers as well as space and equipment at the library for students with visual impairments.

1969 was graduation year with the ultimate decision being made to accept a faculty appointment at Loyola College in Montreal. Those first two years were tumultuous ones, with politics and ethics driving administration and faculty apart. Bob’s exceptional ability to articulate problems and bring logic, integrity, and clarity to bear on a subject saw him deliver many speeches while he defended the rights of academicians.

On numerous occasions it also became clear that Montreal was suffering from a lack of laws and a poor understanding of the accepted use of guide dogs. Restaurants, taxi drivers, and even the major concert hall, Place des Arts, were refusing access to guide dogs. There were no laws to protect the guide dog user from this abuse. After much media attention, private consultations and legal examination, it was decided that a decent law was the only recourse. Once again, writing briefs to the government in order to outline the problems and possible solutions became a preoccupation. A commission was established by the Ministry of Social Affairs to study the problems of the blind in the Province of Quebec. Bob was an appointed member to the commission and played a vital role in fashioning a proposed law and a comprehensive plan for reorganizing and implementing services. Bill 9 was passed into law in 1978, named: “An Act to Secure the Handicapped in the Exercise of their Rights.”  It includes all areas of living, from public access to transportation, housing, education, employment, etc. Government subsidies for guide dog users and attribution of aids and devices now makes this province the most generous in North America.

Bob’s natural inclination for math soon had him hooked by computers. He was part of the avant guard in his department to bring in computers and was doing his own programming from the beginning. As the first Optacon user in Quebec, he read the computer screen with it until the Versa-Braille came along, followed by voice synthesizers. Then, there was the modem for further uses, the continuous upgrades in equipment, the major switch from Apple to I.B.M. Many of his students who had mastered the art of using computers loved communicating with him in this manner. During his very last lecture, (recorded by one of his students) he told of the thrill he experienced on the day he first received his Optacon in 1973. To have lived in the era that passed from little to no technology, to owning equipment that would give him equal access to print material, was truly a thrill for him and a blessing.

Psychosocial barriers were still the major obstacles to full equality and inclusion in society. In the last half of the 1970’s, Bob developed a new graduate program that would train psychology graduate students in the specialty area of the “psychology of sensory deficits.” Duly approved as a Ph.D. program by Concordia University (into which Loyola College was now merged), Bob made a conscientious decision to give up his research interests in mathematical psychology and devote his full attention to developing the graduate program. The philosophy of the program was to educate either the clinical student or the research student to the full range of understanding the dynamics of living with a sensory deficit. The core curriculum consisted of such courses as medical and genetic aspects, psychosocial dynamics, and assistive technology.  Mary Bowman was delighted when Bob invited her to be instrumental in establishing the testing and assessment section of the program. Using himself and others as examples and role models, it was hoped that graduates would be better prepared to advocate or seek out solutions for their clients rather than merely have them adjust to the consequences. He co-authored a number of papers with graduate students and other faculty members on the program team that ranged in topics from chronic depression to good-enough parenting. Two of Bob’s protégés most well known to this A.E.R. Association are:  Olga Overbury, Ph.D., and Beverly Conrod, Ph.D. Conrod and Lambert acquired funding to study the effects of various styles of interventions for persons with low vision. The research was completed but not written up before his untimely death. Bob’s last publication appeared in Re:View and pertained to the training and acquiring of a guide dog.

The ultimate irony of his life was that Bob never felt at home in Quebec and planned to return to the U.S., but under circumstances that would be favorable for his family as well as himself. That September, while in Fresno to teach friends how to use their new computer system, Bob arranged several interviews for a job opening that had become available at San Francisco State University. It was as though the job description had been written particularly for him. The interviews went extremely well and the decision was made to make the move to the Bay area even if he didn’t receive the appointment. Bob had been informed that he was on the short list. The letter inviting him for a final interview arrived the day of his funeral.

In all of Bob’s fifty-seven years, he lived with a compelling drive to be equal and independent. He demanded equal opportunity at every level, whether it was employment, recreation, access to information or social standing. He never shied away from an opportunity to pursue his sense of reality – either for himself or others. His brilliant mind and judicial sense brought forth new ideas with such clarity and integrity that his ideas were often years ahead of their time. Bob deeply appreciated friends who could share his thinking. Excellence was his hallmark in all aspects of his life – from research to teaching, from public speaking to his music studies. A colleague at his memorial service described Bob as a Renaissance man. Another colleague noted that endowed with a brilliant mind, Bob had done so much but with yet so much to do.

Bob was not a person who sought the limelight. He was not an administrator by choice nor an organizer. He excelled in concepts, policy, and planning. Most people never knew many of the involvements he had undertaken.

I am sure that he would be most pleased to have this award set-up in his name so that others, who are carrying on interests that he held dear, may achieve recognition for their endeavors.