LaFayette band director has earned enduring respect

As soon as Bob Lamborn stepped out of the police-escorted black limousine, the music started.

It was an emotional scene.

Musicians teared as they played a tune they had played many times before so long ago - the LaFayette High School alma mater.

The group of nearly 200 former LaFayette graduates had organized a reunion to honor the man who fostered in each of them a keen appreciation of music. Most of those playing hadn't held an instrument in more than two decades, said Margaret Forester, a flutist from the Class of 1988.

Lamborn, 83, who served for 23 years as band director for the LaFayette, Ga., school system, was visibly moved when he saw his former band students greeting him with music and applause. Lamborn retired in 1988.

"It was a big thrill," he said. "It was fun - just like old times."

And it was like "old times" to the students as well, said Forester.

"When he got out of the car, someone asked him if he'd like to direct," Forester said. "He nodded and someone handed him the baton. We all had chills. When he started directing, he got very serious. He has always been serious about music."

'A wonderful teacher'

Students from across the country and Germany came to LaFayette to honor Lamborn.

"Mr. Lamborn was a wonderful teacher - the kind of teacher you never forget," Forester said. "We had the utmost respect for him. If it weren't for Mr. Lamborn, there are some kids who wouldn't have made it through school. Because of band, kids had a sense of belonging. To be part of the band meant we were part of something bigger."

Lamborn, from Pennsylvania, credited his high school band director for getting him interested in music. He started playing trombone in the fifth grade, but it wasn't until high school that it morphed into a passion. The band director, E.D. Rushworth, was responsible for bringing Lamborn to the South.

Rushworth moved to Chattanooga to become orchestra director at the University of Chattanooga (now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga). Lamborn enrolled in the college, majored in music and played trombone in the orchestra. He also met his future wife, also a music major, Elinor Cole. They also played in the Chattanooga Symphony.

After graduating, Lamborn earned a master's of music education degree at Louisiana State University before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, serving in 1954-1955. He played in the 581st Air Force Band based in Hempstead, N.Y.

More than a career

Lamborn landed in LaFayette in 1960. He started with nine band students and eventually averaged around 170.

In addition to teaching high school students, he taught at five elementary schools, said 1970 graduate Denise Manley Shahan.

"He drove a bus around the community to pick up students for band practice," she said.

Shahan joined the band in sixth grade.

"Most of the kids started in the fifth grade," she said. "I couldn't because we couldn't afford to buy an instrument. So I was behind. Mr. Lamborn gave me private lessons at no cost to help me catch up. By Christmas, I was at the same level as the other kids."

Shahan said Lamborn not only taught respect and integrity, he lived it.

"I appreciate everything he did for me," said Shahan, 59. "He taught me to appreciate all types of music from marching-band music to Broadway ... He also taught us to strive for perfection."

Forester, 41, said LaFayette High School Marching Band was noted for its distinct quality under Lamborn's direction.

"Our job as band directors was to produce intelligent listeners and to appreciate music," Lamborn said. "We were not in the business of producing professional musicians, although it did happen sometimes."

Reprise

Neither Shahan (a former flutist) or Forester played their instruments after graduation. Until recently, that is.

Forester purchased a flute at a pawn shop so that she could play at the reunion.

"My children didn't know I could play an instrument," she said. "I have a piano in the garage next to the lawnmower. Last week, I played it. My son walked in and said, 'Mom, you can play a piano?' "

Shahan, who didn't play in the reunion band, said it's on her "bucket list" to again play the flute.

Meanwhile, Lamborn is enjoying his retirement.

"I do what I want to do," he said. An avid golfer, he is still involved in music. He directs his church choir.

"I look back on my career as an adventure," he said.