photo by Dottie Millwater
For Matthew T. Lambert ’99 and Karen Silverberg Lambert ’98, William & Mary has always been about family. From the faculty and administrators that took a personal interest in their lives, the students they supported as RAs, to the friends they made along the way and through involvement in various activities, the College has always been a welcoming community for the couple.
Now back in Williamsburg with Matthew serving as the vice president for university development at William & Mary, the Lamberts are happy to know that the core values of the College and the town have not changed.
“The warm embrace we’ve felt has reassured us that we made a good decision to come here,” said Matthew. “It is a feeling of home for us.”
Matthew’s roots at William & Mary run deep, with family members both attending and working at the College. When he started looking at schools, William & Mary had just the right size and feel. Karen grew up in Texas but, with family on the East Coast, she gravitated towards attending school east. “I was enchanted by the idyllic campus and was drawn to the elements that made William & Mary a public ivy,” she said. “It offered an elite education combined with a warm community of intelligent and down-to-earth people.”
In college, Matthew was a guitarist in a band and also spent time working as a member of the Campus Police Student Patrol, which provided the opportunity to care for the campus in unique ways. Matthew was also very involved with residence life and student government at William & Mary. He got an early taste of advancement work as a member of the Student Alumni Liaison Council, run by the Alumni Association, and the Student Advancement Association, run by the University Development Office.
Karen also participated in residence life and student government and was passionate about the Alan Bukzin Memorial Bone Marrow Drive, a beloved College tradition and campus-wide effort. She was an RA on the same staff as Matthew’s brother, so she knew him before meeting Matthew. Going through pictures recently, the two discovered that they had actually been in the same place at the same time on several occasions, but they did not officially meet until Fourth of July weekend in 1997 at a William & Mary party in Washington, D.C.
“I knew I was in love with her at that moment,” said Matthew, “but she was dating someone else so it didn’t work out immediately. I wanted to date much sooner, but she wasn’t quite ready. That’s one of the reasons I’m good at my job now; you’ve got to be patiently persistent!”
The two started dating in 2000 and were married in 2004 in the Wren Chapel.
After graduation, Karen worked for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital doing fundraising, marketing and corporate partnerships. Matthew got into grad school, but deferred for a year to take a job that he jokes has been the pinnacle of his career.
“I worked for Oscar Mayer, driving the Wienermobile around the country. It was a great job. I learned so much about working with people. I had never traveled outside the East Coast and I felt like I really wanted to experience the country. I was able to travel to almost 30 states and see small-town America.”
Afterwards Matthew went to Ohio State for his master’s degree and worked at the business school in development. It was there he realized he loved the combination of higher education and working with students and alumni.
Karen went on to work for the American Red Cross and then Georgetown University, doing research in child development, early education, and maternal health. After finishing up his master’s, Matthew joined the ranks at Georgetown, working his way up to associate vice president of university development, while also completing his doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania.
When the position in development opened up at the College, Matthew admits he was hesitant to apply. “Karen and I knew that William & Mary was not going to be another stop along the way; this would be long term. I knew it was a great job and we obviously love the place, but it was really on the personal side, deciding if the time was right for us to make this move.”
It turned out to be the right decision for the Lamberts. “We both loved this place,” said Matthew. “There’s a strong feeling of community at William & Mary and more broadly, in the town of Williamsburg. I’ve now attended and worked at four different universities so you get the chance to see the similarities and differences between them. It’s truly unique to W&M.
“There is this sense of heart, mind and spirit that is special to the College,” agreed Karen.
With Colonial Williamsburg, the Sunken Garden and Zable Stadium acting as playgrounds, Matthew and Karen have found the area to be the perfect place to raise their two boys, William, 5, and Harrison, 3.
“Several of their baby-sitters are William & Mary students, so you can imagine how terrific they are,” said Karen. “We are blessed to be able to expose the boys to great role models and to raise them in the supportive environments of W&M and Williamsburg.”
“For our oldest, William,” said Matthew, “he loves that his name is everywhere. Our youngest son is Harrison and he keeps wondering if we are going to move to Harrisonburg. They have little fights. ‘This is my Burg.’ Fortunately, our church is on Harrison Avenue, so the little guy gets that prize.”
One of the many things the Lamberts appreciate about working at the College is the strong integration of personal and professional that exists. “That was never the case for me before,” said Matthew. “It was always work life and home life were completely separate, whereas here Karen and the boys are part of almost everything that I do and that’s part of the fun, that we get to do so much together.”
Matthew recently completed a book on privatization in public higher education, interviewing 150 governors, legislators and members of Congress to get “the other side of the story. We in higher education tell the story of our problems, but I wanted to capture and better understand the other side and see how those in power to make decisions feel about the direction of higher education.” The book will be published this fall by Harvard Education Press. He will also begin teaching again this fall.
“For someone who truly enjoyed the student experience here at William & Mary, I will love being able to work with students again,” he said. “It grounds me in why I’m asking people to help the College. For anyone in a job like mine, it makes you better at what you do, because you get a fuller sense of the entire university experience—particularly students and faculty.”
Matthew credits Karen’s support as the reason he’s been able to do many of things he has professionally. “She brings a level of depth, intelligence and love to our family. She is truly the glue that keeps our family tied closely together. She’s also a great mom to boys and has fully embraced everything boy; she is an expert on trains now!”
Karen feels that Matthew’s professional success and passion for life and for learning is rooted in his family. “He came from a very modest background, but was fortunate to have the loving support of his grandparents and parents who really did scrape money together to give him and his brother an education,” she said. “Matthew continues their examples of hard work, character and faith; I see it every day in our family and in his work. He has thoughtful humility for his blessings, appreciation for the struggle that many have to get quality education, and determination to make William & Mary the best that it can be. It all comes from his deep sense of gratitude.”
“The course of my life was fundamentally changed at W&M,” said Matthew. “The entire life I have right now, career, family, is all because of William & Mary.”