LeRoy “Buster” Lambert grew up in Leesville and graduated from Leesville High School in 1972. He attended Louisiana State University, did graduate work in Germany, worked in his family's business, received his law degree from Tulane and clerked for the Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court before moving in 1984 to New York. There, he became a partner in a leading maritime law firm.
After 25 years in private practice, Lambert became head of the New York office of a London marine insurance company where he now serves as General Counsel. He also acts as an arbitrator and mediator. He has been involved in various high profile maritime cases such as the Achille Lauro hijacking, the Maersk Alabama pirate attack, and the Costa Concordia catastrophe.
He lives with his wife, Sherri, in Manhattan. They have three grown children, a son in New York and two daughters in New Orleans.
President of his high school class all four years, and of the Leesville High Student Council his senior year, he remains connected to Leesville through friends and property interests.
At his urging, Leesville High School got a golf team in in 1971. He offered the following personal reminiscence of growing up in Leesville from 1954 to 1972.
“I was born at Baptist Hospital in New Orleans in April 1954. My birth mother travelled from North Carolina to Baptist Sellers Home for Unwed Mothers. I thank her for her courage and commitment to life. God can turn it to the good (Genesis 50:20).
”In July 1954, I had the great fortune of being adopted by LeRoy and Bernita (Jimmie) Lambert of Leesville and was renamed LeRoy Lambert III. I joined my parents and my sister Ann at our home at 900 West Texas Street.
“My father died in 1959 when I was four and Ann was ten.
“My mother took over his business. At the time and for many years after, I did not realize how difficult it was for her as a ‘widow woman’ with two young children running a "man's business" in 1959 in rural Louisiana. Her Christian faith, discipline, and work ethic sustained her throughout her long and remarkable life (she passed in 2014 at age 97). Ann and I wanted for nothing. I will never live up to the example she set.
“People ask me whether I ‘missed’ having a father. I suppose at some level I did, but, growing up, I don't recall thinking about it or being sad about it. So many stepped up to support my mother, too many to mention by name here --uncles, aunts, dear friends of my mother, caregivers (‘help,’ as we used to say), Sunday School teachers, members of the First Baptist Church, coaches, pastors, deacons, moms and dads of my friends, business owners, the men who ran our service stations, men who played golf with me, our truck drivers, school bus drivers, civic and political leaders, the farmers and contractors to whom we provided fuel – all had time for a curious young fellow with question after question.
“I hung out at the bulk plant, rode the trucks with the drivers, and eventually drove the trucks and made deliveries. I learned to listen. I watched them all and learned from them all. Thank you.
“I attended Mrs. Young's kindergarten, the green, wood frame one on West Texas Street which no longer exists.
“There, a core group of friends was formed.
“Thanks to Fort Polk, each year brought new friends, and each year we said goodbye to others. But this core group grew as we made our way through East and West Leesville Elementary, Junior High and Leesville High School.
“These classmates in Army families had lived in towns around the US and world. They brought ‘worldly’ experiences, including (hard) rock and (un)controlled substances.
“Many of the locals proved themselves quick learners (you know who you are). Gas was cheap. Cars were ridiculously overpowered. The Wampus Cat supplanted The Burger Bar as the evening place to ‘hang out.’
“Vietnam loomed large. Fathers and siblings of classmates had been there/were there.
“As it turned out, the men in the class of 1972 were spared from the draft. Nevertheless, some in our class joined the armed services and served our country honorably and well. Thank you.
“With respect to race, Leesville was a child of its times. The races were separated by law until 1964. Restaurants had separate spaces in which blacks and whites could eat, if there was space for blacks at all. My family owned gasoline "service stations" (yes, back in the day, you did not have to pump your own gas!). The stations had three restrooms; white men, white women, and one unisex restroom for ‘colored.’ Although the Supreme Court directed in 1954 that ‘separate but equal’ schools were unconstitutional and in 1955 that schools be desegregated ‘with all deliberate speed,’ it was not until October 1969 that schools in Leesville were fully integrated.
“Recently, there was a poignant article in this series about the first integrated Leesville High School basketball season.
“Robert Blow was gracious in his comments. In those early years, though, the experience was not all ‘sweetness and light.’ As a Faulkner character said in Requiem for a Nun, ‘The past is never dead. It is not even past.’
“Life is what happens when you are trying to decide what to do.
“(My wife, Sherri, and I) have travelled to Louisiana at least once a year during the past 34 years.
“Ann and I still have property there, I've attended every ten year high school reunion, and I stay in touch with many friends there. Leesville is never far away and never will be.
“I have been involved in resolving disputes between persons from different cultures, religions, economic backgrounds, and for amounts of money small and large.
“Everything I needed to know, though, I learned in Mrs. Young's Kindergarten on Texas Street in Leesville.”
Billy Crawford is presently retired after serving 40-plus years in Louisiana public education, with 28 of them in Vernon Parish. Recently he has enjoyed reconnecting with former students, friends and colleagues who have roots in the Leesville area and now live elsewhere. He has found their life’s paths interesting, informative, and most of all, inspiring.