Ancestors: Sam, John & Will Part Three: Will

17 Mar

Friends of ours have a son who is in his third year at UVA. I’m FRIENDS with him on Facebook & recently he posted about living in student housing at “Lambeth.” I responded to his post telling him my ties with “Lambeth” & he did some research & learned quite a lot about the subject.  He thought it was fascinating.

Dr. William Lambeth (Will) was my great uncle & long time professor at the University of Virginia. He died before I was born but I always referred to him as Uncle Will & knew quite a bit about him from a very young age.

His wife, my great aunt Irene lived in Charlottesville until her death at 97. We saw her frequently. Mentally sharp until her death, she constantly told me stories about her life & about life with Will Lambeth. When she died she had very little arthritis, or so she claimed, & she had all of her own teeth. She credited that to exercise, diet & good oral hygiene. She was way ahead of her time. She left each niece (my mom) & nephew a little bit of money & my mom’s inheritance eventually helped purchase my first car. She left all of their kids (me) very nice, expensive watches. I still have mine although the car, an ancient Renault (called a ReNAULT in those days & not a Re-nooooo) has long since gone on to be spare parts & scrap metal.

In 1890 Uncle Will, a NC native son of a Confederate veteran, enrolled in the University of Virginia Medical School where he received his medical degree. The university hired him to oversee the Gymnasium while he worked on his PhD. Except for three years at Harvard University where he earned a degree in Physical Training, he stayed on at UVA after med school as a professor & joined the medical faculty. He developed a huge interest in athletics … particularly football … & also served as Athletic Director & physical education instructor.

At that time football was not just a very dangerous sport … it was far more so than now when there is an on-going controversy surrounding football, helmets & brain injury. In those days it was deadly. With only one break at half-time & the roughness of the sport, players literally died on the field & as a direct result of injuries suffered during the games.

In 1909 Uncle Will traveled to New York with UVA President & friend, Edwin Alderman to address the Inter-Collegiate Athletic Association (today’s National Collegiate Athletic Association) about football safety. He became a member of the Football Rules Committee that was attempting to make football a safer sport. He was responsible for instigating many safety practices, which included making football games into four quarters instead of a game with only one half-time break.

Uncle Will has been lovingly referred to as “The Father of UVA Athletics.”

Lambeth Field, Lambeth Stadium & Lambeth Hall were named after my Great Uncle Will. He left a permanent mark on the University of Virginia & added significantly to its rich history.

Retired Lynchburg ENT surgeon, John Rischer – himself an octogenarian – told me once that he had been in one of Uncle Will’s classes. He said that students loved him for many reasons but not the least of which was his teaching method. He sat cross-legged in the Lotus position atop his desk while lecturing, to the delight of his students. I LOVED hearing this story about him from Dr. Rischer. It reinforced in me the belief that there has been quirkiness in my family for decades & that it didn’t actually start with me.

Most of this is documented history; stuff anyone can find out through a Google search & it’s what fascinated our friend’s son, the UVA student. What isn’t documented history is what I know about Will Lambeth.

He & his wife, Irene traveled extensively in Europe. He possessed linguistic skills that made such travel easy & mostly carefree. They had most of the things they desired but were unable to have children. There were no fertility testing, fertility clinics or surrogates in those days so adoption was the only option for barren couples & the process was long & difficult.

During the pre-depression days my grandparents had a huge family … nine children with eight of them living. My grandfather was ill & times were tight so Will & Irene approached them about taking one of their children to raise as their own. They wanted the youngest … my mom. Being shy & sickly, she didn’t want to go but her sister, Betsy did & was eventually chosen. My grandmother, attempting to deal with a sick husband, many children & low income didn’t seem to mind relinquishing a daughter to the Lambeths. And so it was done.

They traveled & eventually partially educated Betsy in Europe. My mother was never sorry she didn’t have that luxury, while Betsy reveled in it.

Years later my Aunt Betsy & a friend were the first female students to attend some regular classes at UVA. Women had been attending classes through outside programs associated with the university but not actually attending on campus until then. Betsy would later describe their experience entering the all-male world of UVA. She said that when she & her friend entered a classroom, the male students would slam their books shut & stomp their feet in protest. But they were pretty cool women to take on the challenge & are part of the family “feistiness history” that fascinates me. I don’t know if Betsy attended full time but I do know she was a UVA graduate … again, to her credit.

I think Will Lambeth is probably one of the most interesting ancestors I have & I wish I’d met him. The fact that he taught his university classes sitting cross-legged atop his desk endears him to me & I am proud to be his descendant. Had I chosen education as a career, I probably would have taught classes from the same vantage point.



6 Responses to “Ancestors: Sam, John & Will Part Three: Will”

  1. Deluca, Ellen March 17, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    Enjoyed it Linda. Sorry we didn’t make it on March 8th. It was full when we called to reserve. They also said we weren’t qualified since we didn’t have a published book. Ellen

    Ellen DeLuca, PhD, RN Professor of Nursing Lynchburg College 1501 Lakeside Dr. Lynchburg, VA 24501 PH: 434-544-8322



    • heimdalco March 17, 2014 at 8:56 pm #

      Thanks for reading the entry, Ellen.

      You had to be a member of Hill City Writers to be there if you aren’t published & you had to live in Lynchburg. I’m sorry you couldn’t be a part of it. We had fun & it was the first time I’ve read aloud from my book to an audience. Quite an experience that was NOTHING like being on “Lynchburg Live.” … LOL


  2. Anthony Moshonas March 18, 2014 at 1:37 am #

    Very Cool story 🙂 Thanks for sharing. 🙂


  3. Leslie Miller March 19, 2014 at 2:24 am #

    Very interesting Linda, never knew that you had ties to UVA, have always heard of Lambeth Stadium and Lambeth Field, what a small world to find out this was your Great cool. Thanks for sharing this with us Linda, did enjoy reading this very much!


    • heimdalco March 19, 2014 at 2:28 am #

      Thanks, Leslie. It’s been fun looking back at some of my ancestors & seeing how parts of them may “show up” in me every now & then … LOL
      Love you …


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