Obituary: James Joseph Lamb
Peace and civil rights activist, educator
James Joseph Lamb, aged 92, died May 15 at Pilgrim Place retirement community in Claremont.
He was born in 1927 (the same year as Charles Lindbergh’s famous transatlantic flight) to a working class Irish Catholic family in the Bronx in New York City. Jim’s youth was spent in the Bronx’s City Island and in Riverside, New Jersey.
An avid sportsman, during his senior year in high school at Saint Cecilia’s High School in Englewood, New Jersey, his basketball team won the 1945 New Jersey state championship, coached by none other than Green Bay Packers’ legend Vince Lombardi.
As a teenager he achieved Eagle Scout status (the Boy Scouts’ highest honor) and received special honors for saving the life of a drowning young man at Lake Culver in Branchville, New Jersey.
During World War II he served in the US Navy Air Corps, and later graduated from Manhattan College through the GI Bill. He earned a master’s degree in history at Columbia University, and began teaching high school in Long Island, New York while pursuing a PhD at Columbia.
He subsequently left his PhD program to serve as a Catholic lay missionary in a small village in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula following a devastating hurricane in the region. Along with a close friend he sold nearly all of his possessions, purchased medical and other supplies and a freight truck, and drove the truck from New York to rural Bacalar, Mexico. During his time in Mexico he experienced a near fatal plane crash in a Yucatan jungle, fortunately being saved by members of a local Mayan tribe.
After serving two years as a missionary in Bacalar, he returned to the states and became director of a training program for US families preparing for missionary work in Latin America. In 1961 he met and married Joann Vermeersch of Detroit, Michigan, and they settled in Paterson, New Jersey and began raising a family. Later they moved to Massachusetts, where he established a nonprofit organization to provide education and awareness on global peace and justice issues.
Mr. Lamb was active in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, including participation in the famous 1965 march in Selma, Alabama, with Dr. Martin Luther King. Later he again pursued a career in education, teaching high school English and history at Acton Boxborough High School in Acton, Massachusetts.
Following retirement, he and Mrs. Lamb returned to Mexico to serve for four years at the Cuernavaca Center for Intercultural Dialog on Development, which offered experiential education programs to North American students on poverty and social justice issues in Mexico.
In 1994 they returned to the United States, spending six years in New Mexico, where he taught Mexican culture and history at a local community college.
In 2001 the Lambs settled at Pilgrim Place in Claremont. He was quite active at Pilgrim Place, including helping to establish a peace vigil committee.
As part of the committee he led regular Friday afternoon street demonstrations for more than 15 years protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the corner of Indian Hill Boulevard and Arrow Highway in Claremont.
“Jim will be remembered for being a loving parent and proud grandparent, and for his humility, kindness, commitment to service, love of education, and dedication to global peace and social justice issues,” his family shared. “Characteristically, in a final memoir he wrote, ‘Life is wonderful, if we help each other.’”
Mr. Lamb was preceded in death by his wife Joann in 2012.
He is survived by his two sons and their spouses, Christopher Lamb and Catherine Hardcastle, Paul and Debbie Lamb; daughter Nicole Lamb and her spouse, Jim Longo; and grandchildren Katy Lamb, Isabella and Michaela Lamb, and Gabriel and Emelia Lamb-Reuter.
No donations or flowers are necessary, but kind acts and service to those less fortunate are encouraged and appreciated. “That’s what Jim Lamb would have wanted most of all,” his family said.