FIFTEEN years in the Army helped make Olaf Lambert a very effective Director General of the Automobile Association from 1977 to 1987. Like every good officer, he appreciated the need to maintain close contact with his front-line troops, and spent many hours on the road with AA patrols, getting to know the men and appreciate their problems.
The son of an accountant, Lambert was born in London in 1925 and educated at Caterham School, Surrey. He attended the wartime Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and was commissioned into the 5th Royal Tank Regiment at the age of 19. Before leaving the Army he was Adjutant of the 4th and 5th Royal Tank Regiments, served on the staff of 7th Armoured Division, and became an instructor at Mons officer training school, retiring in 1959.
Lambert stood out as one of the first middle-rank executives to be recruited from outside when he joined the AA as an assistant manager in 1959. His background was ideally suited to operating in a quasi-military environment (his experience in the tank corps where he was responsible for organising and mobilising forces was particularly useful when the AA introduced new breakdown services in the early 1970s), but an innovative and energetic approach to improving service and making it widely available was the special quality that made his new career so successful. Membership rose from 2.3 million to 6.4 million during his 28 years with the AA. Service to members and a black 'bottom line' on the balance sheet were his priorities and his monuments include the AA Foundation for Road Safety Research, which was founded in 1986 and has since commissioned 11 major research projects. Representing such a large motoring constituency made Lambert an influential figure at home and abroad. He gave time and expertise to the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the Institute of the British Motor Industry, and was chairman of the British Road Federation from 1987 to 1991.
Lambert served for three years as world president of the International Touring Alliance, which embraces 129 motoring and touring organisations in 89 countries. Peaceful travel was a far cry from his visit to France in 1944. He landed in Normandy shortly after D-Day and served with the 7th Armoured Division.
Lambert's military links were re- forged in 1984, when he was appointed Honorary Colonel of the Territorial Army's Military Police. True to form, he often attended training exercises in Britain and Europe. Lambert served the Army Benevolent Fund's committee in Hampshire. He became the county's Deputy Lieutenant in 1989, and was also a valued member of the Winchester Cathedral Trust Council.
Away from work he had a great interest in music and was a keen horseman, an accomplished skier and a walker who loved the mountains.
Olaf Lambert was a man whose character blended outstanding vision, drive and organisational ability with the human touch that is so often lost en route to high office.