Originally posted on articles.chicagotribune.com by Joan Giangrasse Kates
Carolyn L. Lambert worked for the Amateur Athletic Union for more than four decades, initially as a volunteer on the national level and most recently as the registration chairwoman for the Illinois AAU.
She was an official timer at sports competitions and helped organize the 1972 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in Portage Park on Chicago's Northwest Side. She also at one point helped out soon-to-be seven-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Mark Spitz.
"It was in 1970 or 71, before Mark Spitz became a household name (at the 1972 Olympics)," recalled her daughter Barb Rezabek. "Mom was a chaperon for the AAU athletes at a competition overseas, when Mark had a minor emergency — his zipper had caused a rip in his pants. So, as the story goes, she saved the day by quickly pulling out a needle and thread and fixing it."
Mrs. Lambert, 93, died of heart failure Monday, Nov. 18, at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital. She lived in Oak Brook and formerly was a longtime resident of Clarendon Hills.
"They just don't make them like Carolyn anymore," said Pam Marshall, the director of volunteer, partner and sponsor services with the National AAU at its headquarters in Buena Vista, Fla. "She was a special person who left a lasting imprint on the world of sports. She was a true inspiration to our younger generation of athletes everywhere."
Founded in 1888, the AAU is one of the largest nonprofit sports organizations in the U.S., dedicated to the promotion and development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs.
Mrs. Lambert was known by many at the AAU as the "Mother of Swimming in Illinois" for her years of dedication to that sport.
"People knew her as a familiar face at swimming events for the AAU and for so long," said her other daughter, Carol Lambert Bobo, a counselor and former swim coach at Hinsdale Central High School. "She loved the camaraderie, competition and friendships — but mostly, the fun."
Born and raised Carolyn Lavender in Ashland, Ky., Mrs. Lambert was the daughter of a gas station attendant, and money was tight during the Depression. She kept busy with athletics and "never realized they were poor, because they had a roof over their heads and she always had her sports," Rezabek said.
Mrs. Lambert earned a bachelor's degree in math from Berea College in Kentucky, where she met a fellow student and her future husband, Riley Lambert. The two were married in 1942, then moved to Elmhurst, where they began raising a family and joined the local YMCA.
"That's where we learned how to swim," Bobo said. "We practically lived there."
In the mid-1960s, Mrs. Lambert moved with her family to Clarendon Hills, where her husband owned and operated a pharmacy that remained open until 1987. Their children attended Hinsdale Central and were members of the school's swim team, as well as the Hinsdale Community Swimming Association, through which they became active with the AAU.
In the early 1970s, Mrs. Lambert began serving as a chaperon for National AAU competitions, and soon after started working as a volunteer in the organization's office on Wacker Drive in Chicago. Several years later, she was hired as the group's state representative, and moved the office to Clarendon Hills to be closer to her home.
Mrs. Lambert continued her work with the AAU, even after moving to Oak Brook and until a couple of months ago, when her health began to fail, family members said.
"Carolyn was a fixture at every event and attended countless competitions and meets and did whatever needed to be done — time keeping, score keeping, record keeping," Marshall said. "She interfaced with coaches from every sport, at every level, and served on committees overseeing our athletic scholarships. She helped plan our conventions each year and was one of my favorite people to visit with at them.
"Basically, she did everything. She did it all."
In addition to her husband and two daughters, Mrs. Lambert is survived by a son, Mark, and four grandchildren.
Services were held.
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