A sunny optimist despite adversity


Hugh Lambert: In 1852, during lectures in Dublin on "The Idea of a University", Cardinal John Henry Newman first delivered his well-worn observation that "it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain".

He continued: "The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast." Rather "he is patient, forbearing and resigned on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it is his destiny."

Newman might have been describing Hugh Lambert, former editor of the Irish Press, who died on St Stephen's Day. He was a journalist with The Irish Times at the time of his death and, repeatedly over recent days, shocked colleagues and friends have spoken of his gentleness, his sunny nature and his perennial optimism despite batterings by adversity.

In all the ugliness that surrounded the latter days of the Irish Press, he stood out for his equanimity, decency and good nature towards all. Yet few were under as much pressure as he - then its editor. The presence of so many colleagues from those Press days at his removal and funeral Mass this week was testimony to the respect, standing and affection in which he continued to be held from there. The large contingent at both events from this newspaper endorsed that view.

Journalism was in his blood. His father, Hubert, worked as a printer with both the Irish Press and The Irish Times. Hugh began his career as a sub-editor with the Evening Press and the Sunday Press in 1962. In 1971 he also became film critic for the Sunday Press until 1980, when he was appointed production editor.

He was features editor at that paper for a period and is generally regarded as having been a fine writer. But his preference was for production. Indeed, he was heard to say that all he wanted to do was "draw lines on a sheet of paper."

Then in 1987 he was appointed editor of the Irish Press. He is said to have been as surprised as others. It was a poisoned chalice. The paper was already in grave difficulty through lack of investment over previous administrations. There had also been dogged refusal at all levels for the best part of two decades to adjust to a changed Ireland.

Within six months he was given the job of transforming the paper into a tabloid, but without the resources to make this possible.

Reporters remained resolutely broadsheet in approach, reluctant to embrace the snappier style of the tabloid format, and the only colour available on antiquated printing presses was the red used in the paper's masthead.

The tabloid format was not one which regular readers adjusted to. A slippery slope became slippier. The last Irish Press appeared on May 25th, 1995, two days before Hugh Lambert's 51st birthday. He joined The Irish Times in 1996, working on production at its Education and Living supplement before taking charge of production at special reports.

He had great interest in history, especially that of his own family, believed descended from French Huguenots. He liked hill walking and cycled a lot. He was predeceased by daughter Anna Victoria, who died in infancy 23 years ago of a rare chromosomal disorder.

It prompted the involvement of Hugh and his wife Angela with Soft, the support organisation for Trisomy 13/18 in Ireland (website: www.softireland.com).

He is survived by Angela, and sons Alan, Paul, John, and Sam.

Hugh Lambert: born May 27th, 1944; died December 26th, 2005