HONORING THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF DR. BENJAMIN J. LAMBERT III
Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor the life and legacy of my friend and former colleague in the Virginia General Assembly, Dr. Benjamin J. Lambert III, who passed away on Sunday, March 2, 2014.
Benny, as he was affectionately known by his friends, family, and constituents, was a pioneering figure in Virginia politics. We were both elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1977. In 1980, Benny became the first African American elected to represent the Commonwealth on the Democratic National Committee. In 1985, he was elected overwhelmingly to fill the seat vacated by then-Lieutenant Governor Doug Wilder. During my time serving alongside Benny, I always admired his ability to build strong relationships with his colleagues, work across the aisle, and take the tough positions that were not always politically popular but were the ones he believed were right for his constituents.
Benny was born in Richmond on January 29, 1937 to Frances and Benjamin J. Lambert, Jr. He attended Henrico County Schools at a time when they were still racially segregated. He graduated from Virginia Randolph High School in Glen Allen, just outside of Richmond. He went on to earn his undergraduate degree from Virginia Union University, and his graduate degree from the Massachusetts College of Optometry. After graduate school, Benny returned to Richmond and practiced optometry in the Jackson Ward neighborhood. He was an active member of the Virginia, National and American optometric societies and was chosen as Virginia's Optometrist of the Year in 1980.
Benny came to the Virginia General Assembly after years of political and civic activism, which helped him to become a very influential and effective legislator during his 30 year tenure. He severed on several committees in the General Assembly, including Education and Health, General Laws, Privileges and Elections, General Government, and Health and Human Resources. He also has the distinction of being the first African American in the 20th century to serve on the Virginia Senate Finance Committee.
Additionally, he chaired the Subcommittees on Higher Education and General Government, the Brown v. Board Scholarship Commission, and the Lead Abatement Subcommittee. Benny also served as a member of the Joint Commission on Health Care, the Joint Subcommittee Studying the Election Process and Voting Technologies, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission, the Commission on State Employees Health Benefits Reform, and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. In 2010, Governor Bob McDonnell appointed him vice chair of the Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring.
Outside of government, Benny had a very active civic life. He was a member of the NAACP, the Richmond Crusade for Voters, the Jackson Ward Civic Association, the Richmond Jaycees, the North Richmond YMCA, and he served on the board of his alma mater, Virginia Union University. Benny was also an active member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
Benny devoted his career in and out of public service to the citizens of Richmond and Central Virginia, always doing what he thought was best for his community, regardless of the political consequences.
Mr. Speaker, words alone cannot express the tremendous loss to the Richmond community and the Commonwealth of Virginia with Benny's passing. Benny Lambert was a humble optometrist that achieved so much on behalf of his community during his 77 years of life. My thoughts and prayers are with Benny's wife Carolyn, his children and grandchildren, and his many friends and admirers during this difficult time.