The late former Gov. Dick Lamm was a man of vision and prescience, a complex character in the state’s political history who was never afraid to follow his convictions and take on controversial issues, his family and fellow Colorado politicians remembered Tuesday.
Current Colorado Gov. Jared Polis praised Lamm’s life of service, not just to the state as both a lawmaker and governor, but also in the U.S. Army to his nation, as a lawyer to his clients and as a teacher to his students.
“Whether or not you agreed or disagreed with Dick, nobody can deny he lived a full life and one that was truly dedicated to serving others,” Polis said in opening remarks at a Denver memorial service that drew hundreds, including prominent Colorado politicians such as Democratic U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet.
Lamm, a Democrat, died July 29, less than a week short of what would have been his 86th birthday.
Speakers praised Lamm for his passion for policy, particularly as an advocate for the environment and for opening the door to the liberalization of abortion laws.
Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, who served in Lamm’s cabinet, described his friend and former colleague as a “member of the greatest generation of political leadership in Colorado,” contemporaries with Democratic former U.S. Sens. Gary Hart and Tim Wirth, as well as Democratic U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder.
“Dick was truly Colorado,” Webb said. “Independent, tough, strong, complicated, unpredictable, kindhearted.”
Lamm was no stranger to controversy during his time in office, and afterward. Lamm was a state legislator in 1972 when he famously led a movement that spurred voters to reject funding for the 1976 Winter Olympics. That remains the only time a host city has rejected the Olympics after they were awarded.
He also generated controversy for remarks he made in 2006 that suggested Latinos and Blacks lacked the drive and ambition of Asians and Jews.
Speakers remembered Lamm for his ability to foresee problems like climate change and urban growth, with Polis calling him “prescient.”
Lamm was also described as a man ahead of his time on hot-button topics. Speakers noted he was on the vanguard on environmental issues and pushed the country’s first law liberalizing abortion regulations, six years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on abortion rights in Roe v. Wade.
“Patients from across the country benefit from Dick Lamm’s belief in, and advocacy for, bodily autonomy and the right to make our own healthcare decisions,” said Vicki Cowart, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
Cowart said Lamm “took the position he believed was right no matter what.”
Lamm’s daughter, Heather Lamm, recounted her father’s love for reading and intellectual discussion, guessing that he “probably ascended to the pearly gates only to inquire of St. Peter what he had been reading over the summer.”
His wife, Dottie Lamm, told the story of their love for each other, starting from how they first met and their first date to the time they spent “cocooning during the lockdown,” giving them a chance to look back on their lives and express their love for each other.
The couple shared a deep affection for Colorado, which Lamm governed for 12 years from 1975 to 1987.
“Our marriage was rooted in Colorado soil,” she said. “We fell in love with the state before we fell in love with each other.”
The memorial service, held at Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, was punctuated with musical performances by local musicians Purnell Steen and the Five Points Ambassadors. The service concluded with a rendition of John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High.
In her final comments, Dottie Lamm bid her husband a final farewell: “Goodbye, love of my life. We had a really good run. Now pass your torch, release your spirit, raise your wings and fly over the Rockies.”