Daniel (Danny) Lambros died peacefully in his sleep, at home, on March 24 -- next to the love of his life and within reach of his three daughters. He was 92.
His, by almost any measure, was a life fully and joyfully lived.
He was born at the Park Hotel in Missoula with a caul -- a sign, according to his beloved mother, that he'd be a lucky one. Little did she know.
Growing up on East Pine Street, Dan was fiercely competitive and not easily discouraged. On his first day of first grade (at Central Grade School on Broadway), he was sent home with a note from his teacher: "This boy can't start school because he doesn't speak English. And we don't speak Greek."
He quickly learned a second language and used it, from the very beginning, to lead. He was the captain of his grade school basketball team (even though he was the shortest kid on the squad and couldn't make a free throw to save his life); student body president of the Missoula County High School (now Hellgate); and then again at the University of Montana, where he campaigned on a promise to attract the best big bands to campus.
He graduated from the U of M with a business and, later, a law degree -- the latter of which informed his thinking but which he never formally used. As he saw it, lawyers typically made matters worse. He preferred to negotiate, compromise, and get to a "win" for everyone. He could argue a point with the best of them, and stood firm (sometimes annoyingly) on points large and small. But, at bottom, he was more ally than adversary.
Dan served in Korea as an officer in the Army. Although he was proud to serve his country -- and sent his mother countless knick-knacks from Seoul -- he readily admitted that he was not exactly soldier material. Those who know him would well understand: he had a kind and gentle soul. Once, when he accidentally trapped a squirrel in the cabin, he was crestfallen.
He met Sophie Chokatos, of Clarksburg, W.Va., at a Greek fraternal convention in St. Louis. He flipped a coin to decide whether to forego a planned trip to Greece and instead journey to St. Louis to meet the woman who many had raved about. He later called it the luckiest coin flip of all time. They were engaged four months later, and lived side by side, nearly inseparable, for 65 years. They had three daughters who left Montana for different pastures – but who always considered Dan and Sophie’s place “home.”
With his younger brother George -- remarkably, these two never spatted and often finished each others' sentences -- he founded a real estate firm. They started with one secretary, buckets of paint, and a dream on the corner of Higgins and Broadway. In time, they pulled off a hat trick: Lambros has been a leading Montana real estate agency for many years; it earned a reputation for unparalleled honesty and integrity; and its agents and staff were . . . family. The brothers' other business ventures included a mall, several hotels, and a student housing project. Dan also reveled in smaller projects: putting together a land deal for the hospital, figuring out how to build a parking garage, helping to light bridges over the Clark Fork.
Dan also pioneered, at the agency and beyond, the advancement of women. It wasn't because he was particularly progressive. He was pragmatic. "Women are smart and capable and talented. Why would anyone be dumb enough to write them off?" He was one of the first two votes (with his buddy John Talbot) to bring women into the Rotary Club.
Dan could fix almost anything — although he sometimes got in over his head with plumbing. He carried a toolbox wherever he went, and often showed up at Lambros rentals at the end of the day to repair this or that. Sophie urged him, unsuccessfully, to carry a set of overalls in his car so he wouldn’t ruin his suits. Last week, some visitors complained about a drywall problem they were having. “I can come put it up,” Dan reflexively said.
Although he traveled widely (Dan and Sophie especially loved to bike and sail), and was keenly interested in national affairs, Dan never wanted to live anywhere else. He loved Montana. He loved the beauty, he loved the spirit, he loved the people. And he felt duty-bound, as one of the lucky ones, to give back. Among his many activities and distinctions: he served as the president of the Montana Ambassadors, on the Board of the Montana Power Company, as president of the Century Club, as a member of Rotary (with a too-keen interest in the Christmas program), and the Ruff Club. He was a devoted supporter of the University of Montana and a leader of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, which his father, an immigrant from Greece, helped found.
Dan’s life, in ways large and small, was a love letter to Missoula. He attended Grizzly home football and basketball games almost without fail for more than 70 years. Just last week, he was talking about lighting another bridge (and weighing the relative merits of Madison or Orange Street). He believed, with every ounce of energy he had, that Missoula has the best and brightest future imaginable, even as the city changes and grows. It was on his way to Rotary that he took the fall that would bring his life to a close.
When it became clear, at the hospital, that Dan was nearing his life's end, his six grandchildren zoomed in to say goodbye. Although none lives in Missoula, they all talked of how deeply their "Papou" had affected them: they spoke of his integrity, his generosity, his decency, his unbridled optimism, his honesty, his lion-sized heart. We hope he heard them -- because, of all his many accomplishments, these imparted lessons would be his proudest legacy. Family was his alpha and omega.
Dan is immediately survived by his dearest love and best friend Sophie, and daughters Demetra (Michael Duffy); Maria (Michael Kannen), and Patricia (Tom Tsagalakis), and grandchildren Nicholas (Lexi) and Maria Sophia Tsagalakis, Daniel Kannen, and Niko, Luke, and Jake Duffy. His extended family with brother George, Dorothea, their children and grandchildren meant the world to him.
A Greek Orthodox funeral service will be held on Thursday, March 30 at 11:00 am at Blessed Trinity, 1475 Eaton St., with reception to follow.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Dan's honor to Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 301 South 6th St West, Missoula, MT 59801 [google.com].