Helen “Hellcat” Lamb, Camp Jabberwocky founder, dead at 97

Helen Lamb delivering her introduction to the Camp Jabberwocky play. — File photo by Susan Safford

Helen “Hellcat” Lamb, founder of Camp Jabberwocky, the Martha’s Vineyard Cerebral Palsy Camp, died at her home in Oak Bluffs Friday, Aug. 26, on the eve of her 97th birthday.

However, since Helen Lamb, née Southworth, was born in England, she, in fact, reached the age of 97 (several hours earlier).

Helen spent her first few years in Preston, part of Lancashire, and arrived in the U.S. at the age of six, settling in Dartmouth. She returned to England at the age of 12 and later attended the Royal Manchester College of Music where John Lamb, a violinist, was a teacher. They married in 1935, when Helen was 21.

For a time, Helen pursued a career on the stage. She gave birth to three children, and after John Lamb died in 1950, she returned to Massachusetts and took a job in a clinic at Fall River. She became a speech therapist for schools in Swansea, Somerset, and Rehoboth.Her work schedule was tight and required frequent drives from one place to another. The speed of her driving, plus an occasional regression to driving on the left side of the road, earned her the sobriquet “Hellcat,” a title she accepted and wore with good grace the rest of her life.In 1953, Helen brought three handicapped children to a cottage in the Oak Bluffs Campground for a month.The Camp grew and moved to larger quarters in the 4-H clubhouse in Oak Bluffs the next year and eventually moved and built on land donated by Grace Church in Vineyard Haven.

Helen ran Camp Jabberwocky, with help from her children Gillian, Janet, and John as well as a generation of volunteer counselors, until 1968, when Gillian and John assumed the directorship.

“Interestingly, Larry Perry, who was one of those very first campers, also died this week, at the age of 68. He has never missed a summer of camp, although he moved with us to Nantucket,” Gillian told The Times. “It is thought quite charming to his parents, now 89 and 87, that Larry and Hellcat went, as they put it, on their last journey together.”

To all who knew her, Helen was an inspiration. Often impatient, sometimes irascible, she was thoroughly dedicated to improving the lot of the hundreds of campers, children and adults, fortunate enough to know the magic of the camp she founded, nurtured, and directed.

There will be a gathering of Hellcat’s friends and admirers at State Beach in Oak Bluffs on Sunday, September 4, at 5 pm.