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Verna Hawkins Lambert built ‘a village of friends that loved her’

by TaJuan Stout Mitchell —

Verna Hawkins Lambert lived a life and left a legacy showing how relationships can be built and love can be nurtured.

She died on March 12 at age 63.

I met Verna more than 30 years ago. She was new to Memphis.

Her life in Memphis started as a career move as an architect. She was talented. I did not have anything done to my house without her guidance.

While leaving a meeting of the legacy Memphis City Schools Board, of which I was a member, she said she might be working for the school system.

She was from the East Coast and had worked on a major project at the Memphis International Airport. Someone from her hometown told her to contact me when she got to Memphis; they said I would take care of her.

The person’s name was unfamiliar, and when I looked puzzled; she was hurt. I quickly asked “who” once more as if I couldn’t hear for the noise. She repeated the name and I just smiled and said, “They sent you to the right place.”

I never told her I didn’t know the person. It didn’t matter. Her warm and humbled spirit let me know God sent her into my life, and that settled it.

We were “Forever Friends,” and I hooked her up. She built a village of friends that loved her.

The family of Verna Hawkins Lambert at the homegoing service attended by many of the friends she made throughout the years. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Truth is, I introduced her, but it was all Verna. Her goodness radiated. She loved the Lord and found Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, where she would worship and serve.

Verna was a caregiver, who opened her home to her mom, who preceded her. She loved supporting small businesses, and Jim and Samella’s became her spot.

She loved interior design and had a “soul-a-dex” of Black and small businesses from furniture makers, upholstery, and drapery designers.

Verna loved reading and found a book club.

She loved traveling and formed a sideline travel business.

We were on the hunt to make the best pound cake and after years of testing recipes, it was my sister-in-law’s seven-flavor pound cake recipe that became our favorite.

She loved her sorority and was totally devoted. They loved her, too. Beverly Robertson, April Hubbard, Lynette Hall Lewis, and her sorority sisters were true angels.

When she greeted you, it was, “Hey, Queen.”

And when “we” departed, we always said, “UNO.” It was our term for “You know, God loves you, and so do I.”

Verna’s mom was creative and a seamstress who could make anything, according to her daughters. That creative sense was taken to a new level when Verna, as a teen, read an article in Ebony magazine about Tuskegee Institute, an HBCU, where she could study architecture.  Determined to attend, she graduated in 1982 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architectural Design.

Her greatest love was family. She and her husband, Thomas Lambert, shared life for 34 years. Supporting their daughter Zamyra’s entrepreneurial spirit was a constant that was its own reward

Zamyra designed scented candles for the home and is now a physician’s assistant.

Verna really loved being a mother and being a grandmother brought her a new purpose and joy.

She was a builder. Verna built a life, family, friendships, and community.

Verna’s legacy can be seen at the airport runway, Uptown Memphis, the FedExForum, public housing transformation, such as redevelopment of the old Lamar Terrace public housing development at Lamar and Interstate 240, schools with air conditioning, more than 20 new schools, like Robert Church, or renovated schools like LaRose Elementary and Riverview Elementary.

Those projects were Verna Hawkins Lambert working in silence and on her wall to rebuild Memphis.

Her last project was the Memphis Landmark Universal Life Building.

Verna’s mother, Novel L. Hawkins, died during the pandemic of natural causes.

She leaves her father, Kermit R. Hawkins; her husband, Thomas Lambert, a daughter, Zamyra (Adolphus) Hall; a bonus daughter Khiana (James) Hayman, one bonus son, Vaughn (Rowshawn) Lambert; two granddaughters, Amelia, and Olivia Hall; and one grandson, Jacob Hayman.

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