Penny Lambeth delighted in bringing Julia Tuttle, mother of Miami, to vivid life at historical events around town.
Lambeth, in Tuttle guise, shared the story of the woman who helped shape the city in the late 1800s. In many ways, Lambeth did that too in the late 1900s.
“She was always big on genealogy,” son Steve Lambeth said of his mother, who died in her sleep at her Miami Lakes home at 74 on Oct. 28.
“She said she would never miss the opportunity to talk family history with somebody. If someone had a tad bit of information of a previous relative she was quick to quiz them. That, also, is what spurred her interest in the history of the cemetery and Miami,” he said.
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And that, historians say, is the Columbus, Ohio-born Lambeth’s great gift to the Miami community.
“One thing she did was to get people to appreciate Julia Tuttle and the most important was her fight to restore and have people appreciate the historic Miami Cemetery,” said local historian Arva Moore Parks. “The cemetery became her passion and I don’t think we would have it in its condition. She certainly got attention paid to it and that was critical for its future because there is nothing else like that.”
The 10-acre cemetery at 1800 NE Second Ave., which opened in 1897, is the final resting place of Miami’s founders and some of its most prominent pioneers like Tuttle, the Burdine family, the Peacocks, Dr. James Jackson (namesake for the public hospital) and numerous Civil War veterans and soldiers of the Spanish-American War. As its centennial approached, vandalism had nearly destroyed the burial site.
Lambeth, a chairwoman with the Dade Heritage Trust and the Historic Miami City Cemetery Task Force, helped lead efforts to restore and preserve the historic site.
Penny Lambeth and Karen Nagle, public relations consultants, formed Lambeth & Nagle Communications in 1987.
Lambeth, a partner in Lambeth & Nagle Communications, served on numerous committees and boards, including the African American Committee of Dade Heritage Trust, Hampton House Advisory Board and Lemon City Cemetery Community Corporation. With the volunteer group TREEmendous Miami, for which she served as vice president, she helped plant thousands of trees in Miami-Dade. She also led restoration efforts of the Cape Florida Lighthouse on Key Biscayne.
In 2001, Lambeth was awarded Dade Heritage Trust’s highest honor, the Henriette Harris Award, for restoring historic sites and neighborhoods, including her work on the cemetery.
“I was the chair of the cemetery task force. When I got to be president of the Dade Heritage Trust [in 1998] I couldn’t continue that position. She took it over and I’m telling you, she superseded anything I could have done,” said preservationist Enid Pinkney. “ She got involved with all kinds of gardening organizations. Whatever she could bring out there to beautify that cemetery.”
I thought, you know, it wouldn’t take much to make this a pretty nice place. I thought we could make this into a wonderful botanical garden.
Preservationist Penny Lambeth, a member of the Miami Cemetery Task Force in a 2002 Miami Herald article.
All it needed, according to Lambeth, was “TLC” she said in a 2013 Miami Herald story. “The first ‘everything’ is here. The first judge. The first mayor. The first black judge. The first black attorney. You really can’t talk about Miami without talking about this cemetery.”
The cemetery became her passion and I don’t think we would have it in its condition. She certainly got attention paid to it and that was critical for its future because there is nothing else like that.
Miami historian Arva Moore Parks on Penny Lambeth
For Pinkney, though, she was a blessed friend.
“I never wrote an article, a news release or anything without letting Penny proofread it. She had a third eye. Stuff that I didn’t see she could pick it up and I depended on her. She never charged a dime,” Pinkney said. “She wanted to help and she did help.”
Standing in that restored gravesite one day, marveling at the history etched in the now visibly detailed markers, Lambeth, the communication specialist, tipped off her raison d’etre.
“Why there must be a million stories in there.”
Funeral services will be Nov. 4 in Columbus, Ohio. A memorial will be held at the Miami Cemetery in early December.
Donations in her memory can be made to TREEmendous Miami or a local diabetes association.