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Archive for June, 2011

“Sea-Fever”

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

John Masefield (1878-1967)

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I usually try to ignore Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, letting them slide by because both of my parents are deceased and I’ve found that thinking about them on those days is painful. I’ve decided, instead of ignoring Father’s Day, to use the day to honor my father.

Austin Lamberts was a unique man–eccentric to some, humble with an insatiable appetite for knowledge and travel, a man who contributed in no small way to the person I am today.

Written by his three daughters, a short compilation of his life follows.

AUSTIN E. LAMBERTS

“I’ve had a wonderful life,” Austin Lamberts often said. Wonderful, unusual, and occasionally thrilling. Austin Lamberts approached life head on, always eager for a new adventure.

The fourth of seven children, Austin Elwin Lamberts was born in East Saugatuck, Michigan on November 30, 1914 to Rev. L. J. and Anna Lamberts.

As a boy, Austin was fascinated with science and dreamed of becoming a naturalist. He wandered the woods and swamps around Fremont, Michigan. As a young boy, he made a large hot air balloon out of tissue paper and flew it over the town.

He attended grade and high school in Fremont, Michigan, and graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids in 1936. He went on to graduate from the University of Michigan medical school, completing a rotating internship at Gallinger Memorial Hospital (now City General) in Washington, D.C. Initially he was a poor student, but, as the years progressed, he got better. “I got D’s in grade school, C’s in high school, B’s in college and A’s in medical,” he once recalled.

When WWII erupted, Dr. Lamberts was sent to the South Pacific as acting flight surgeon of the Headquarters squadron of the newly formed 5th Bomber Command. After 14 months in New Guinea in that capacity, he returned stateside for further training and reassignment. He was then sent to India where he supervised medical rescue efforts for Army air corps personnel shot down over the Himalayan “Hump” into China, one rescue allowing him to live for weeks with a tribe of headhunters in Tibet. Austin also traveled on his own to Kashmir and Burma. He was in China on VJ Day, August 1945.

Back in the States, Austin reentered the University of Michigan medical school to continue his medical training in his chosen specialty: neurosurgery.  He set up practice in Grand Rapids where he continued in neurosurgery for the next 18 years, practicing mostly out of St. Mary’s Hospital. Head injuries and back surgery became his specialties–if there was a head injury in western Michigan, ambulances routinely headed to St. Mary’s because that’s where Dr. Lamberts worked. At one time, Austin recalled, he had to get up in the middle of the night and go in to the hospital every night for 30 nights in a row.

In 1948, Dr. Lamberts married a young nurse, Evangeline Meyer, who would eventually become the first woman city commissioner in Grand Rapids. Austin and Evangeline Lamberts had four children–3 girls and a boy. In 1954, the couple bought and moved into a house on the northeast end of Grand Rapids, the house in which Austin would live for almost 50 years.

In 1968, when Austin was 54 years old, he slipped on the ice, instinctively went into a paratrooper’s roll and snapped his right wrist on the trailer hitch of his car, shattering the bone and rendering the hand partially paralyzed. Unable from that point to continue in surgery, he left medicine completely, diving into what would be his next field of work. In 1970, he entered the University of Hawaii, and three years later completed a PhD in Marine Zoology. Using his home in Grand Rapids as his base in order to be near his children, he traveled the globe extensively–mostly to the South Pacific–becoming a world expert on coral taxonomy, pioneering new techniques in electron microscopy, reclassifying Pacific coral, and discovering several new coral species.

As the years passed, Dr. Lamberts realized that he missed medicine. He decided that since extensive advances in medicine and exorbitant malpractice fees precluded him returning to medicine, he would pursue it through another avenue—medical mission work. So, while in his 70’s and 80’s, Austin traveled to Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zaire, Haiti, Cambodia, and Thailand, working as a medical missionary, volunteering his time and traveling at his own expense so that he was never away from his children and home for more than a few months at a time. He made 5 separate trips to Site 8, an internment camp for Khmer Rouge refugees located on the border of Thailand and Cambodia, working under the ever-watchful eyes and machine guns of the Vietnamese.

Sometimes Austin traveled for pleasure. At age 67, he traveled through the South Pacific with his son, Conrad. When he was 71, he took his children on a camping safari in Kenya. At 84, Austin spent 3 weeks touring Eastern Europe, and at 85, traveled to India, revisiting some of the places he had seen over 50 years earlier during the war.

In his spare time, he found time to brew his own wine, bake his own bread, make his own jam, and take classes in small engine repair and furniture reupholstering at the Kent Skill Center. He also loved classical music, poetry, a good book, or to simply walk with his children or friends in the woods by his house, delighting in the many trees he had planted throughout the years, and in the wildflowers and birds—all of which he could name by heart. As late as 2001—when he was 87 years old–his family had to enlist neighbors to stop by his house and make sure he hadn’t climbed up onto the roof to track down some mysterious leak.

Through out it all, Austin remained a gentle, humble man with simple tastes and a love of laughter. Only weeks before his death, when Austin was wheelchair-bound and unable to speak, he would still light up at a good joke. If it was off-color, all the better.

“I’ve tried to teach my children that you can’t buy happiness,” Dr. Lamberts said in a 1993 interview. “True happiness and success have nothing to do with money or possessions. Fulfilling what you think is your purpose in life—that’s real success.”

Dr. Lamberts has completed his life of service. He died peacefully in his beloved home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Tuesday, April 18, 2006.

Simple service. Simply given.

Austin E. Lamberts

November 30, 1914 – April 18, 2006

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