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Gordon Lamb, former UM System interim president, dies at 77

Thursday, February 9, 2012 | 10:07 p.m. CST; updated 8:11 a.m. CST, Friday, February 10, 2012

COLUMBIA — Dr. Gordon Lamb, whose 40 years in higher education included serving as interim president of the University of Missouri System, was remembered as an advocate for research and academic freedom. He was 77.

He died on Monday, Interim UM President Stephen Owens announced in an email late Thursday.

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Lamb is survived by his wife, Nancy, three sons and five grandchildren, Owens said.

Funeral Director Katherine Brumwell of Elliott Chapel in New London, Iowa, said services will be private with interment at Long Creek Cemetery in Danville, Iowa.

Kenneth Hutchinson, former vice president of human resources for the UM System, said he was close to Lamb and has fond memories of the educator, not only as a leader but also as a musician.

"He had a wonderful voice," Hutchinson said. "He was a good singer. We ended up side-by-side at a funeral, and we were both surprised by each other's voice."

Hutchinson said Lamb was an outstanding executive.

"He came in at a difficult time, and he had a sense of balance about him that really played well with the Board of Curators and the university system as a whole," he said.

Hutchinson said he thought the curators appreciated and respected Lamb because he "did his homework" before each board meeting.

"He was a good listener, and he tried his best to understand all sides of an issue," he said.

Scott Charton served as director of communications for three UM System presidents, including Lamb.

"Gordon was nothing short of heroic in meeting political pressure head on and flicking it aside," Charton said. "He could have relaxed and stayed out of it. But he was never a caretaker. Gordon felt very protective of the University of Missouri's standing as a research institution. He stood like a rock for academic freedom."

In 2007, Lamb spoke against a ballot initiative to ban a certain type of stem-cell research. He said the proposed amendment "could permanently destroy the future of research in the state and in its universities," according to a story in the Missourian.

At the time, Lamb's friend Lenard Politte, a cardiologist, sent an email to the Board of Curators standing behind Lamb for his stance.

"It is great to have an interim president who is not afraid to express his honest opinion about the issues that impinge on academic freedom and how these will determine the future of a great university," Politte wrote in 2007.

Contacted Thursday, Politte said he still feels Lamb was an advocate for all types of research and teaching at the university.

Politte was Lamb's doctor  — but he became his friend.

"He was a very dignified, very competent individual who had a lot of respect for his colleagues," he said.

Politte, who met Lamb in the 1990s, said he was "the epitome of a gentleman and a scholar" and served as a role model for many people.

"He will be missed," Politte said.

Lamb served as interim president of the UM System from 2007 to 2008. He was the executive vice president of the four-campus system from February 2008 until his retirement in March 2009. He also served as interim chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City from 1999 to 2000.

Lamb helped establish the Missouri 100, an advisory board that helped promote the role of the university system within the state and worldwide, Owens said.

Lamb was also instrumental in organizing a network of community colleges and public universities to address legislators about health care funding. The resulting initiative, called Caring for Missourians, was launched in 2009 to help train more than  900 additional students for health care fields with a high demand, according to a government website

He authored many books and articles, as well as musical compositions, Owens said. Lamb also received awards during his career that included the National Award for Teacher Education's Most Supportive President or Chancellor given by the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education.  

Hank Waters, emeritus publisher of the Columbia Daily Tribune, said Lamb had quite an influence while he was interim president. Lamb was instrumental in organizing health care education programs from around the state to petition legislators for funding, Waters said. 

Lamb also made a significant impact on the Music Department, where he got his start in education, by securing major contributions especially for original composition, Waters said.

"Our esteemed colleague’s contributions to our university were far-reaching," Owens said, "and continue to stand the test of time."

How will you remember Dr. Lamb, personally or professionally? Let us know in the comments here, or by emailing news@ColumbiaMissourian.com.


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