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Tuesday January 3, 2017

A life devoted to the arts

She acted in theatre as a young woman and later served with numerous Montreal artistic institutions

Special to The Globe and Mail

Marie Lambert, who died this month at the age of 94, defied poverty and adversity early in life to become a prominent figure in the Montreal arts community. Starting as a tour guide at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, she became a member of its executive and was on its acquisition committee, helping decide which art to buy and display. She was also a director of the National Theatre School and the National Arts Centre, among other institutions.

Marie Cécile Ève Larouche was born on Oct. 6, 1923, in Chandler, on Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula. Her father, Simon Larouche, owned a pulp and paper mill but went broke at the start of the Great Depression, in the early 1930s. Her parents separated and her mother, who reverted to her maiden name Lydia Sullivan-Beaubien, moved to Montreal with Marie, leaving her other six children behind in the Gaspé.

Marie had gone to a convent school in Chandler, run by the Soeurs de la Providence, a Catholic teaching order founded in Montreal in 1843. Nuns did much of the teaching in Quebec at the time. When she and her mother moved to Montreal, Marie went to École Marcel Durveau and also helped her mother run a boarding house in the Montreal district now known as the Plateau-Mont-Royal.

"One of the men in the house gave my mother some books, in particular a dictionary, and she read them assiduously," said her daughter, Suzanne Colson.

When she was walking down Mount Royal Avenue near her home, a couple who owned a store asked her if she would like to model. She was about 15 at the time. From there, her godfather, a prominent lawyer, found her a job as an usher with the Montreal Repertory Theatre when she was 18. Soon she was acting.

In 1943, she appeared with La Troupe MRT, the French-language arm of the Montreal Repertory Theatre. She appeared on stage for three seasons during the war years and remained connected to the theatre for the rest of her life.

In 1944, she married Armand Lambert, an accountant. She was 20; he was 33. Mr. Lambert worked for the City of Montreal and went on to become director of finance for the city and a commissioner of the Montreal Urban Community Transit Commission, which operated the subway and bus network in the city.

The couple were prominent in Montreal's social scene, and were constantly featured on the social pages of both French and English newspapers in the city.

Ms. Lambert had maintained her connections with the city's artistic community and once her two children were in school, she started her volunteer life.

She joined the women's committee at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and took a five-year course in art history at the museum to prepare to be a guide.

She worked as a guide for seven years. At the time, the museum was primarily an anglophone institution, so the French-speaking Ms. Lambert was in constant demand to give tours, especially to student groups.

Ms. Lambert also conducted the radio equivalent of on-air tours of the museum, in French on CJMS-FM from 1970 to 1972 and the same years in English on CJFM. She did another broadcast in English in 1976.

Because of her knowledge of art history, and because she could speak both languages fluently, the museum asked her to lead a tour of China in 1978, a period when China was just opening up to the world. Ms. Lambert led another tour of China in 1979 for the World Medical Association and the following year for the Chicago Art Institute.

Ms. Lambert was a board member of the National Theatre School, and became a member of its executive committee in 1981. She remained an honorary member of the board there until she died.

"Marie was the perfect example of the society woman who volunteers, but she was much more than that," said Peter White, who was a two-time chairman of the board of the National Theatre School. "She took her duties very seriously and would volunteer to work on any committee."

Because of her reputation for hard work, Marie Lambert was soon swamped with requests to serve on artistic boards. She was a vice-president and member of the executive committee of the National Arts Centre from 1975 to 1982; she was first on the board of Place des Arts in 1982 and then a member of the audit committee from 1984 to 1986; she was on the board of the Du Maurier Arts Council throughout the 1980s.

In 1986, Ms. Lambert was named to the Order of Canada for her work with so many arts groups. "This Montrealer has promoted the growth of the visual and interpretative arts through her generous and longstanding volunteer work," the citation for her Order of Canada read.

That same year, she took a paying job for the first time since she was an actress in the 1940s. She became the director of sales for Tropics North, a 120unit condominium beside Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67, on the St. Lawrence River.

"She was amazingly successful and hard-working," said Jean de Brabant, the designer and developer of the complex, who knew Ms. Lambert from his involvement in Montreal's artistic community. "Marie Lambert was involved in that world. She was certainly one of the most beautiful and chic women in Montreal for decades."

At one point, Ms. Lambert became interested in her family tree. She found some of her ancestors in the Larouche family were among the first settlers in New France. One of her ancestors, Jacques Gautier, was born on the Île d'Orléans in 1647. Like many Quebeckers, she also had Irish blood; her maternal grandmother was a Sullivan. Orphans from the ships that came over in the famine were adopted by French-Canadians and there was much intermarriage because most French Quebecers and Irish immigrants of the 19th century had the Catholic faith in common.

Ms. Lambert, who died on Dec. 5 in Sutton, Que., leaves her daughter, Suzanne; her son, Philippe; and two grandchildren.

Her husband, Armand, died in 2010 at the age of 99.

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Associated Graphic

Marie Lambert was on the executive committee for the National Arts Centre and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. In 1986, she was named to the Order of Canada for her work with various arts groups.


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