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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 3 Feb 2005

Vol. 179 No. 4

Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy.

I wish to express my sympathy and that of my party on the recent death of Gordon Lambert who had been a Member for four years and had been appointed by the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, following the 1977 general election. He was a cultured, eminent gentleman and was kind as well. Having asked somebody to look at the debates, it is clear he contributed greatly to cultural and education matters when they were being debated. We would all know of him through Jacobs because for many years he was the head of the Jacob's Biscuit Company. He was well known in artistic circles in Dublin. I note that he left his whole collection to the Irish Museum of Modern Art when he became ill. It has great praise for Gordon Lambert and the collection he left it.

Perhaps I can be allowed make a small colloquial remembrance of him. For many years my late husband worked in Jacobs and he wrote to Gordon Lambert when I was first seeking to become a Member of the Seanad because Gordon Lambert had interviewed him for the job. One particular morning during that campaign I got a telephone call and Gordon Lambert, who had just been into the offices of the Seanad and cast his vote, said, "I do not know what other votes you are going to get, Mary, but this morning you got a No. 1 vote on the cultural and educational panel". As the House can imagine he was a very kind man.

He also had a good sense of judgment.

He had a great sense of judgement. I subsequently went on to get that seat by a pure fluke because I was on the inside panel.


What are all the Members saying?

It is lack of judgment.

The usual suspects are laughing during a vote of sympathy.

It is in order to tell the House about your first vote.

Thank you very much. We all have reminiscence of that. He has a wider family to whom we convey our sympathies and thank for his years of service when called upon by the then Taoiseach to take his place in the House.

On behalf of the Fine Gael group I express our sympathy to the wider Lambert family who are a well-known, well-respected Dublin family of many generations on the untimely passing of former Senator Gordon Lambert. Unlike the Leader, he never voted for me. I never knew him. From speaking with people from those times he made a worthwhile contribution to the House during the four years of his membership from 1977 to 1981. It was a great testament to the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, who decided to appoint him to the House at that time.

Gordon Lambert was an independently minded person. I understand he was an Independent Member in the House. He was a person who had a huge business acumen. The Leader has rightly referred to his connections with Jacob's Biscuits, which was in the heart of my Dublin South-West constituency. I understand he was one of the instigators behind the Jacobs awards, which has been significant in terms of amateur dramatics and persons with a particular interest in music and he should be remembered for that. Senator Coghlan has informed me he was the man who invented the slogan, "he put the fig in the fig roll".

I am not sure about that but I will bow to his superior knowledge on this subject. It is only right and proper that the House remembers his contribution to public life. Clearly he was someone whom Mr. Lynch regarded as a person with a considerable knowledge of the arts and of business. I am sure his contributions greatly added to the work of the House. Today the House records his passing. I wish to express my sympathies to the wider Lambert family.

I speak today on behalf of the Independent Members but I also speak on behalf of Senator Ross who was a friend of Gordon Lambert. I knew Gordon very well and had known him since the 1960s. If the term "Renaissance Man" means anything, he was exactly that sort of man. His mother was one of the Mitchell family of wine merchants and it was from her he inherited the art collection to which he added in later years. Given his background, he had a great interest in both wine and in art. He was on the board of the National Gallery of Ireland during the 1970s and later on the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art of which he became a patron. As the Leader stated, he donated his collection to that museum. With David Hendricks, he formed the Hendricks Gallery. His activity in that area was well-recognised and renowned.

He also had a background in accountancy and was a very efficient accountant. He was educated in Russell Schools in Lancashire. He told me, and also recounted it on a radio programme, that while there he became accustomed to having a cold shower every morning and continued that practice for the rest of his life. I did my best to encourage my children to follow his example but I did not get anywhere with that suggestion. It probably served the purpose of waking him up every morning. He became a very efficient managing director of Jacobs and later of Irish Biscuits and was one of the success stories of Irish business in those years.

He was a very private man in other ways. He never married but had a close — shall I say — professional relationship with a lady who was very well-known, Frankie Byrne. The radio programme "Dear Frankie" was sponsored by Jacobs and was one of the most popular programmes on radio.

Gordon was involved with the first television awards in 1962. He competed with Eamonn Andrews to stage the TV awards show which became the Jacobs TV awards. They were originally held in the Jacobs factory in the city centre and I remember attending. When the factory was being renovated, the show was staged in venues in Cork, Galway and Limerick. Those of us who were recipients of the hospitality from Jacobs remember him as a man who loved to entertain. He was great fun but also the sort of man who enriched everyone he met because of his joy and interest in everything he did.

He came from a sporting family. His brother, Ham — short for Hamilton — and to whom I spoke yesterday, is a young man who will not be 95 until next month. Ham played cricket and rugby for Ireland and was a professional rugby player. He told me that Gordon had inherited this love of sport but was never as active as himself.

His desire for privacy was evident in that prior to his death, which occurred last Thursday, he asked that it should not be announced until a private family funeral service had taken place. It is hoped that a public ceremony will take place at a later date.

He was appointed by Jack Lynch to the Seanad and played a very active role particularly in matters of culture and the arts. He is the sort of man one would like to think of as representing the membership of Seanad Éireann.

Listening to the Leader I am reminded of the notion in chaos theory that a butterfly in the Amazonian jungle can change the weather here. It is clear that a single No. 1 vote, cast in 1981, had a fairly profound subsequent effect on Irish politics. We can all make an impact and Gordon Lambert had a huge impact.

I have a passing interest in and enjoy modern art. I believe his contribution in that area to the richness of Irish life of itself would make him somebody to be publicly mourned. It was an imaginative decision by Jack Lynch to appoint somebody like Gordon Lambert in what was a very different Ireland. He is one of a number of distinguished appointees, such as a current appointee, Senator Maurice Hayes, who add a considerable amount to our debates and whose contributions are heeded by the Government.

Gordon Lambert was also a successful businessman. We join with his extended family in regretting his passing and in sympathising with his family. People like him deserve to have their lives celebrated. While we mourn, all those who knew him and who were his friends can say it was a life lived successfully and richly and which left a permanent mark on our country and culture.

On behalf of the Progressive Democrats I join previous speakers in extending our sympathies to the family of the late Gordon Lambert. I did not know him but from what I have read in the past days, I realise he was a cultured and educated man and a very successful businessman. His appointment to Seanad Éireann in 1977 by the then Taoiseach, Mr. Jack Lynch, was an inspired choice, given that in 1962, Mr. Lambert arranged the first meeting in Dublin between the Dublin and Belfast chambers of commerce, at a lunch hosted by Jacobs. He was already working at a time when it may not have been popular to develop these relationships. He had a vision for Ireland and for business and cultural relationships between North and South which we all must emulate.

At the same time in 1977, Jack Lynch made another inspired appointment when he appointed Mary Harney to the Seanad. Perhaps if things had turned out differently, Gordon Lambert could have ended up where Mary Harney is now.

We must restrain ourselves.

The Leader has already stated that he had a very sound sense of judgment in the casting of his vote——

I did not say that.

On behalf of the Progressive Democrats I acknowledge the great public service given by a Gordon Lambert. I express our sympathies to his extended family.

I too wish to join in the tributes to the late Senator Gordon Lambert. He became a Senator in 1977 when he was appointed by the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch. I served in this House with him and I believe I am the only Member here today who served with him. I found him to be one of the most dedicated Senators who made very constructive and valuable contributions to debates. I do not have any knowledge of the 1981 election to which Senator O'Rourke referred. I was a shy Senator at the time and I do not remember whether I asked Senator O'Rourke for a vote but I definitely did not receive a telephone call.

Senator Lambert was for many years the managing director of Jacob's biscuits. I may not always agree that Senator Coghlan is correct but he is in this case when he stated that Senator Lambert conceived the slogan, "How do they get the figs into the fig rolls?" He was the first non-family member of the board and devised the Jacobs Irish television awards in 1962.

His interest in politics was national and he played an important part in improving relations between the North and South. As Senator Minihan mentioned, he organised the first meeting of the Belfast and Dublin chambers of commerce in 1962 at a lunch in Jacobs with the then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass. He was renowned for his interest in the arts and he came from a family renowned for its sporting achievements. I extend my sympathies to the family. The House will observe a minute's silence.

Members rose.