Former students, campaign workers, cabinet members and a who's who of Colorado's political class all came together Tuesday afternoon to honor former Gov. Richard Lamm, who died on July 29 at age 85.
A memorial service with hundreds gathered at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Lowry, followed by a jam-packed reception at the governor's mansion in Denver.
All of Colorado's living former governors — Roy Romer, Bill Owens, Bill Ritter and U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper — attended the service, dedicated to "a man to match our mountains."
Gov. Jared Polis gave opening remarks for the celebration of the life of Colorado's 38th governor, who served from 1975 to 1987.
"His career is one for the ages," Polis said. "When I think about the life he lived, the word that comes to mind is service. Whether you agreed with him or not, no one can deny he lived a full life, dedicated to serving others." He never stopped exploring new frontiers or challenging how people thought about things, Polis said.
The service was led by longtime Lamm friend Buie Seawell, former chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, who called Lamm "the best friend this state has ever had."
Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb gave the eulogy. Webb said he was first introduced to Lamm by wife Wilma, and later served as a member of Lamm's cabinet. Webb said Lamm was part of a "glorious age" for Colorado politics, which included U.S. Sen. Gary Hart (who was also at the service) and U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder. Lamm was "truly Colorado: independent, tough, strong, complicated, unpredictable" and kind-hearted. Lamm was also a futurist and prophet, Webb said.
"What he talked about we lived to see," Webb said, such as the traffic between Cheyenne and Colorado Springs.
Cabinet meetings were "pure, intellectual verbal combat of ideas, thoughts and issues of the day," Webb said. "When I think back about Dick Lamm, I thank God that you gave us Dick Lamm in this brief moment in history's time clock. To spend time with us, to challenge our ideas, thoughts, the philosophy of the world we live in and to challenge us to make it a better place."
Former Lt. Gov. Nancy Dick, who served in eight of Lamm's 12 years, was unable to attend but sent along her thoughts. Serving as the first woman lieutenant governor with Lamm was the highlight of her political career, Dick said. He had an inclusive view of government, she said, an iconoclast who left an impressive legacy of lasting policies. "He was the right man at the right time...[an] innovative, rebellious, brutally honest and insightful voice that will be missed."
"He meant the world to me," said former Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler, who also served in the Lamm cabinet in his third and final term. "Dick believed in me. He coached me, and when I made bad decisions he backed me privately and publicly ... We were empowered to do our jobs because he believed in us and encouraged us to try new ways to do things." Among his greatest contributions, Schoettler said, was finding and building the next generation of Colorado business, political and community leaders.
When he heard a new idea, he was delighted to find something new to think about, she said. He relished the arguments and ideas flowing around him and never thought he had all the answers.
But it was never just Dick, Schoettler said, paying tribute to his wife, Dottie. "You showed us how to use our positions to be forceful advocates in what we believed, to stand up for women and to challenge and change the status quo. You did that as First Lady" and all the years since, she said.
Vicki Cowart, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, recalled Lamm's first major political battle. As a new legislator, he worked to pass a law legalizing abortion in Colorado, six years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade. His values were clear and followed his beliefs with action, Cowart said. He acknowledged back then it could end his political career, "but I just can't not fight for what I believe in." And with abortion rights being whittled away in other states, Cowart said, including most of the states that surround Colorado, it was Lamm's work that will make Colorado a haven for women everywhere.
After his days in the governor's mansion were done, Lamm went on to teach for 30 years at the University of Denver, and ran the Center for Public Policy and Contemporary Issues. The memorial service featured comments from two former students who talked about his love of teaching. Uriel Bernum, who was among the students mentored by Lamm, said he was drawn to Lamm's limitless attitude about life. "Society is shaped by bold, unconventional methods. Gov. Lamm and I connected because, like him, I grew up with no playbook for success."
He also spoke about how Lamm changed his life. One year after college, Bernum was in his first job. Lamm asked him whether Bernum would make an impact on society if he has his boss's job in ten years. Bernum left that job and founded effct.org, thanks to the spark that Lamm ignited, he said.
The greatest lesson he learned from Lamm? "The only way to predict the future is to design it."
Attorney Allie Moore said she signed up for Lamm's class, Hard Choices In Public Policy, partly because Lamm was such a celebrity. She came in as an undeclared major but just weeks after starting the class she changed to a degree in public policy and pursued a master's degree, with Lamm as her thesis adviser.
His classes were memorable, Moore said. He always managed to tackle difficult issues with boldness and humility, she said. Lamm's role as a teacher was not to divide people; he built a classroom where students could talk about hard social problems and listen to the perspectives to people they disagree with.
Lifelong friend and author Bruce Ducker painted a picture of Lamm as a chronic pessimist, chronic realist, ("irritatingly realistic"), and even a chronic optimist.
"Look what he took on," Ducker said: women's rights, immigration reform, comprehensive land planning, quality of stream flows and record expansion of the state park system. Then after decades in politics, "this chronic optimist spends decades trying to teach adolescents." Ducker quipped that DU initially approached Sisyphus to teach those classes, but he turned it down because he liked his opportunities, and so the job went to Lamm.
Heather Lamm, the younger of his two children, spoke of the family's days in the governor's mansion. He was the dad who loved them unconditionally, read to them and asked them and everyone they knew what they were reading.
"He probably ascended to the pearly gates and asked St. Peter what he has been reading over the summer," Heather said. He taught them to ski, climb and raft and was home for dinner at 6:15 p.m. sharp every night. He didn't bat an eye when his kids thought the mansion's indoor fountain was a swimming pool or the basement a hockey rink. He taught them to explore and to be joyful. "You were the dad you protected us from the normal hazards" as well as the "unwanted press" and the occasionally unforgiving stare of the public eye, in a job that she said had little room for children.
Dottie shared how they met — at a holiday party that he crashed — and their first date. He showed up to her apartment (Dottie was a flight attendant) with a bottle of wine and a request that they watch a Shakespeare play on TV. After that, he said they could go watch his landlady dance. What he didn't know was that she was a dancer for Sid King's strip bar. Dottie knew who Sid King was but played along. Their marriage was rooted in Colorado, she said. "We fell in love with the state before each other."
He grew increasingly philosophical about death and dying, she said. "I've loved every stage of being Dick Lamm's partner in life. Thank you for the credit, but it was my honor."
During that last year of his life, during the pandemic, they had time to review their lives, express love and appreciation for each other, watch silly TV movies, read and talk about good books and where they would travel next. That last part was not to be, she said. "I say 'goodbye, love of my life. We had a really good run. Now pass the torch, release your spirit, release your wings and fly over the Rockies.'"
The memorial concluded with a performance of John Denver's Rocky Mountain High by Purnell Steen and the Five Points Ambassadors.
In addition to the governors, other dignitaries at the service included former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, Speaker of the House Alec Garnett of Denver, House Minority Leader Hugh McKean of Loveland, and a host of former lawmakers and cabinet members.