John “Tommy” Lambert, Jr., a Real Patriot and an East Memphis Pioneer, Dies at 97

John Thomas “Tommy” Lambert, Jr.

November 2, 1924 – June 12, 2022

John Thomas “Tommy” Lambert, Jr., World War II veteran, husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, and friend to many, passed away peacefully, surrounded by family, on June 12, 2022, at St. Francis Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee. He was 97 years old. To his friends and family, he was a World War II Veteran, a devoted husband, a father, a friend, a grandfather, a great grandfather.

Little Tommy Lambert was the youngest of four siblings, and one of the first two incubator babies born in Memphis, coming into this world November 2, 1924, at just two pounds, at St. Joseph’s hospital. A newspaper clipping reported that he was “about the size of an average man’s hand.”

Tommy Lambert’s heart, soul and get-up-and-go was bigger than his slight frame. In 1927, at the tender age of three, he made the local news again in the old Evening Appeal when he was saved by a bystander in the middle of a busy intersection. “I was chasing a street sweeper,” he said. And according to the Evening Appeal, Tommy “craved travel. He yearned to see the world… With a strawberry sucker between his lips, Tommie (sic) strolled nonchalantly in front of a speeding auto and streetcar at Fourth and Vance.” A Good Samaritan swooped up 3-year-old Tommy and pulled him to safety.

In 1942 he met the love of his life, Ruby Durham, the pretty curly-headed girl behind the popcorn and candy counter, at the Memphian Theatre at Cooper and Union in Midtown.

John "Tommy" Lambert, Jr.
PFC John “Tommy” Lambert, Jr., in Europe. 1946

Eager to serve his country after the onset of World War II, he was finally able to enlist in the U.S. Army in September 1943. Tommy’s service record indicates that he was assigned to Camp Forrest, Tennessee, and then at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. Young Tommy wanted to be a fighter pilot, but the Army needed on-the-ground combat engineers. And in the summer of 1944 at Camp Beauregard, Private Lambert was assigned to engineering training. Before he was shipped overseas, he was sent to New York Trade School for U.S. Army Personnel, where he learned the trade of an electrician. Tommy served as a combat engineer, and saw action in London, Germany, and France. On his return home, he said “The prettiest sight I’ve ever seen was on our way home when we finally reached New York harbor… fire boats came out to meet us and sprayed water over the bow of our ship. When we caught sight of the Statue of Liberty in that harbor, every man on the ship saluted.” * He was honorably discharged in September 1946.

On December 2, 1946, Tommy and Ruby drove a half-hour south to Hernando, Mississippi and married at Hernando’s historic federal-style courthouse, known as the “Marriage Capital of America.” In his civilian career, Tommy served as a switchman for South Central Bell Telephone. In 1949 and 1951, the couple brought into this world daughters Barbara Kay and Susan Gail, respectively. In 1955, the couple became part of the first wave of residents in the new Colonial Acres in East Memphis, buying the house at 4734 Willow Road at the then-edge of Memphis city limits. They attended church at First Evangelical on Ridge Lake Blvd in Memphis, where Tommy often greeted and in his signature style handed out Life Saver mints.

Tommy and Ruby in 2000

In 1982, Tommy retired from the phone company. In his life, Tommy loved watching TV shows Laurel and Hardy and Bennie Hill, and old westerns and other film classics. His favorite movies ranged from Gunga Din to The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Top Gun, and the movies of Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood. Tommy loved his home on Willow Road, loved working in the yard and tinkering around the house. Loved his dog Lena and their cat Sophie. A real patriot, he loved his country. He got up early every morning, raised the American flag out in the front yard, and gave the Stars and Stripes a firm salute. He adored his grandbabies and doted on them with love and attention. And he loved Jesus and his wife Ruby. The couple were married for 75 years.

John "Tommy" Lambert, Jr.
Tommy Lambert in front of 4734 Willow Road, Memphis (courtesy Cindy McMillion’s Connecting Memphis)

Tommy is predeceased by his father John Thomas Lambert, Sr. and his mother Delphia Gertrude, his older siblings – sister Cornelia, brother Leo, and sister Imogene. He is survived by his wife Ruby Durham Lambert of Memphis, Tennessee; by daughter Kay Lambert McCary and her husband Boyce McCary, granddaughter Lindsey Gail Duran and spouse Jay Duran, and grandson John Casey; by daughter Susan Gail and her husband Richard Hitchcock, granddaughter Kelly Kay Fleischer and spouse Mark Fleischer, granddaughter Kari Kathleen Angelo and spouse Greg Angelo, grandson John “Zach” Zachary Hitchcock and spouse Courtney Beckett; and by seven great grandchildren.

Tommy Lambert loved life, and he loved his family. He was “Tommy,” “Daddy,” “Paw Paw,” “Dip.” From the cradle to the end, he fought to stay in this world. In the afterlife, his big heart and soul will no doubt inspire, comfort and guide those who so loved him.

He will be laid to rest Friday morning, June 17, 2022, at West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery.

John "Tommy" Lambert, Jr.

*Thanks to Cindy McMillion’s Connecting Memphis for her 2015 interview.


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