LAKE PLACID - "He was Mr. Lake Placid," said Shirley Seney, who herself is a former North Elba town supervisor, village mayor and school board president. "He was proud of his community."
She was referring to Joseph Vernon "Vern" Lamb Jr., who died at the age of 86 on New Year's Day in his home on Nash Street, surrounded by family.
He was born in Lake Placid on July 23, 1925, to parents Joseph Vernon and Elsie (Tracy) Lamb, and was a lifelong resident. Those who knew him emphasized his commitment to his hometown.
Vern Lamb speaks in 1976 as a member of the Lake?Placid Olympic Organizing Committee.
(Lake Placid News file photo)
"Lake Placid has lost one of its most supportive members of the community ever," said Serge Lussi, owner of the Crowne Plaza Resort and Lake Placid Marina.
He was a man "who always worked for the benefit of the people of Lake Placid, was always promoting the area for its benefit," Seney said.
It was his passion for the community that got him involved in trying to bring the Olympics back to Lake Placid after the 1932 Winter Games, according to his son Joe Lamb.
Sports Illustrated magazine in November 1974 did a profile on those involved in the Lake Placid Olympic movement, and they included Lamb along with J. Bernard Fell, Norman Hess, Jack Shea, Luke Patnode, Ron MacKenzie, Art Devlin, Lussi, Bob Peacock and Bob Allen. The magazine described them as "North Country boys" who were raised with the values of "neighborliness, loyalty and something elusive and old-fashioned called community spirit."
"They saw a community that needed to grow," Joe Lamb said. "They had a passion for it to grow, and they said, 'Well, we're a sports community.' And they recognized that, and they were all sports oriented. ... This group were the founding fathers of the modern Olympic movement, the modern Lake Placid. They modernized us. They brought us back on the map."
Jim McKenna, director of the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau, agrees with Joe on how influential those men were to the area.
"That generation changed Lake Placid forever," McKenna said. "That was their goal. Vern was certainly a part of it. Their goal in soliciting those Olympic Games was to turn this into a year-round resort and sports community, and they certainly accomplished it, that goal."
But getting the Olympics to come to Lake Placid wasn't easy.
"For 10 years those guys pressed and pressed and pressed and worked against the odds," Joe Lamb said. "We never got a formal, official bid from the (U.S. Olympic Committee) until we went in front of the (International Olympic Committee). ... They wanted the '68 Games. I remember they lost. ... They lost the '76 Games to Denver, which the environmentalists closed down, and the IOC had to. And they sold themselves as Lake Placid to the IOC, and they got the (1980) Games here."
Vern Lamb played an important role once Lake Placid was awarded the 1980 Games. He was responsible for writing the environmental impact statement in the late 1970s.
Joe Lamb recalled his father holding monthly meetings, inviting environmental groups to them so they could be involved in the planning and construction of the 1980 Olympics in an effort to avoid what had happened in Colorado, where people voted in a statewide referendum to not host the 1976 Winter Olympics. Nevertheless, in October 1979 an environmental group got a federal injunction to stop Lake Placid's preparatory work for the Olympics, Joe said.
In court, "Vern got up and just proceeded to say, this is the process we took, here are the meetings we invited them to participate," Joe said. "They never showed up to one meeting, and we have hotel records that show them in Lake Placid on those dates."
Joe said the judge ended up ruling in favor of Lake Placid, meaning the preparation for Olympics could proceed.
"Without Vern's effort, we would not have been able to hold the Games," said Jim Rogers, town of North Elba justice and a fellow member of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee for 1980.
Vern Lamb attended Lake Placid High School and graduated in 1942. He later attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology but ultimately earned both his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees from Dartmouth College. He furthered his education at Syracuse University, where he earned his Master of Science degree in forestry.
Lamb went on to become the owner and president of the family-owned Lamb Lumber company until he retired in 1991, passing down the business to his sons.
"He was very consistent about, it's time for the next generation (to take over)," Joe Lamb said.
Joe remembered Art Devlin, a five-time Olympian and Lake Placid native who died in 2004, saying, "Vern Lamb is so smart, he doesn't even know how smart he is."
"I think he epitomized enjoying the area he lived in," said Art Devlin, son and namesake of the Olympian, currently a motel owner and village trustee. "There's so much to do here, so much to enjoy, and I think he would be a good example of that."
Vern Lamb was heavily involved in the sport of skiing. He was both a nordic and alpine skier while attending LPHS and then later at MIT, Dartmouth and Syracuse. He became a certified national alpine official, then a nordic official and an International Ski Federation (FIS) jumping judge in 1970. He served as a FIS technical delegate to Canada and Japan.
In 1992, he was inducted into the United States Ski Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the Lake Placid Hall of Fame.
Lamb served on numerous club and organization boards during his life, including local sports organizations. He was a district governor of the Lions Club, president of the Lake Placid Ski Club, president of the Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce, president of the Lake Placid Historical Society, a board member of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority and a member of the Lake Placid Sports Council.
"He was the quintessential volunteer," Rogers said.
Lamb married G. Winifred "Winnie" (Everest-Ryan) on Jan. 19, 1952, at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Lake Placid. They had four children: Carol Ann Lamb, Joseph "Joe" Vernon Lamb III, Tracy M. Lamb and Thomas V. Lamb.
"I know Vern wasn't in the best of health over the last year, and from what I understand, the family really pulled together," McKenna said. "Our condolences go out to everybody involved."
"I'm saddened by his loss," Lussi said.
"A person like Vern is not replaceable because he was one of a kind," said Ted Blazer, president and CEO of ORDA.
"(Lake Placid) lost one of its old guards," Devlin said. "We're gonna miss him."