On Saturday two remarkable people were laid to rest, Faith Lansing and Vern Lamb.
Faith, sister of John Lansing and known to her family and friends as Fifi, was married to my uncle Dean. They were sweethearts in their youth, their lives took different paths which meant marriage to others, and came together again late in each of their lives 10 years ago and found that initial fondness easily rekindled. They brought great joy into each other's lives, and it was cute to see that my uncle had kept a note received from her about 75 years ago. Seeing them together at their home in Bradenton, Fla. was a delight. They complimented and took enjoyment from each other in a way that many aspire but few reach.
My relationship with Vern was far longer and far more complex, which I suspect is a feeling that many natives and locals of long standing share. Several articles have extolled his many accomplishments and contributions, and doing so only scratched the surface. As I looked down on him in casket endearingly festooned with mementoes and the day-glow "Follow me to Lake Placid" stickers, I could not help but remark to one of his sons that it was the first time I had ever seen Vern with is mouth shut.
In fact, I couldn't find photo of him in any of the many on display with the lips closed. Vern was always grinning, laughing, talking, arguing and simply in motion. He was smart, energetic, creative, imaginative, persuasive and at times thoroughly exasperating and downright irritating. More than once I wanted to throw him out the window. At the same time, there were moments when he would take my breath away with his insights and ability to put needs of others above his own.
I'll give an example of each. Back in I think 1966, I was in Bear Mountain, competing for the New York State X-C ski championships, a race that one actually had to win twice, once Saturday in Bear Mountain and then the next day 50 miles away in Rosendale as both sites claimed that their race was the official state championships; so to win one had to win both races. The Bear Mountain course was twice around a lake and the finish was up a steep hill where it then flattened out with a dash to the finish. There was some stiff competition from Old Forge, as well as Putney, Brattleboro and Hanover.
The conditions were icy and I was charging up nearing the top at the end of my second loop racing as if I had a pack of dogs behind me flailing towards the finish when Vern ran out onto the course and along side of me. I was surprised. I thought, "Vern, cheering me on?"
He shouted in my ear, "What wax are you using? I want to put it on Joey's skis."
I was dumbfounded. I wanted to stab him, run over him, anything. All I could do was try my best to get away from him as fast as I could, which may well have contributed to my winning the race which I did, as well as the next one in Rosendale.
About six years later I had been roped into helping village trustee Jack Barry try to raise funds to restore the Mill Pond Dam, which had washed out in 1970. Volunteer efforts to rebuild it were stopped by the DEC who said, nope, it has reverted to its natural channel. Working with Town Historian Mary MacKenzie, we gathered a lot of information and photos proving that the town had grown up around the dam, and indeed there had been a series of dams. We decided to create a document and brochures that demonstrated its historical significance, which would enable us to get around the DEC.
The next step was to apply via the North Elba Historical Society for a New York State Council of the Arts grant. The deadline was 2 weeks away and Vern, who was then its treasurer, agreed to provide a copy of their budget and end of year fiscal report for the previous year. I had tried for a month to meet with him, but being a jumping judge and all, winter was a tough time to get time with Vern. We agreed I was to meet him at Lamb Lumber on a Sunday morning immediately after church.
We sat down at his desk. He pulled out the Historical Society files, and said, "Oh, I am sorry, I never got the end of year report or budget done."
I was crushed. We could not apply without the budget, the report and his signature on the application. "When do you think you might be able to do it?" I asked. I knew he had a trip coming up, and had previously told me about a whole lot of other things he was into, not the least of which was the bid for the Olympics.
He said, "I apologize. It was my responsibility to get this done. I have learned that when there is a difficult job to do, best is to do it and not put if off. If you are willing, let's work together on this right now and stay here until we get it done." And so we did. He called his wife Winnie, told her he'd not be home for lunch and we stayed there all afternoon and I left with a document ready to go, an application that was successful, and like his effort on the environmental committee for the Games, was critical to our ability to get past the DEC and rebuild the dam.
That too was Vern. He took responsibility. He never shirked the hard stuff, didn't dump unpleasant tasks on others. I learned many great lessons like that from Vern. He was a great coach and mentor as well as a person who drove one crazy from time to time. I liked all his complexities and passion and the support he gave to others. He was also damn lucky to have found Winnie.