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Jamie Lembeck Passing

Filed under: Local Interest, News

Jamie Lembeck, a loyal friend of Hallwalls (and many of us personally), and devotee of the arts (especially music) and man about town known to (and loved by) most everyone in the art and music scene of Buffalo, died at home overnight, June 24–25, 2008. As was his wish, he had just been released from the hospital earlier yesterday, where he had been treated for newly developing respiratory problems and had contracted a serious infection, both complications of the prolonged paralysis that required him to use a wheelchair for most of his adult life, but which never kept him from getting around or attending more concerts and other art events than just about any non-wheelchair-using person you could name. You never thought of Jamie as being “wheelchair bound”; his wheelchair was his means of mobility, and he was always on the cutting edge of technologies for independent living.

He passed away peacefully in his home in the former firehouse at 1416 Main Street, which he had designed and built as a multi-unit model of independent living, with both close friends and hospice caregivers present, though he had been expected to last longer than the few hours he had left there.

Although many of our current Board members might not know Jamie, Jamie served on Hallwalls’ Board of Directors for a full decade, from January 1996 through January 2006, until the institution of term limits that year (coinciding with our opening in The Church, as it was then called), but he was a long-time supporter before that, and remained a loyal supporter to the end. He advised our architects (both Hallwalls’ and the entire Church project’s) on accessibility, as he had done on so many projects in Buffalo, and one of his legacies is certainly the exemplary accessibility of Babeville, which he took advantage of as long as he could.

The last Hallwalls event I know he attended was the full-to-capacity Eyes & Ears: Sound Needs Image Part II, on April 5, 2008. He had wanted to attend Artists & Models at the end of last month, but, not feeling up to it, he sent his regrets—along with a donation—with a friend.

Artists & Models founder Tony Billoni, former Hallwalls Board member Wendy Pierce, and others of Jamie’s closest friends are making arrangements for a memorial service in Buffalo (probably at the Unitarian Church), and I will let you know the details when they are set.

photos from our Grand Opening weekend in January 2006, with Bruce Adams and Tom Hayduk.

Ed Cardoni

Executive Director, Hallwalls

  • George Olmsted

    Jamie is/was a giant amongst us. I stood in awe of his determination and drive many times and his passing came as a shock to me and all of us. His many selfless acts and desire to advocate tirelessly for others is a model for us all to follow. I fondly remember the Buffalo State College Dance marathons that he orchestrated in the 80’s and the countless shows that we were fortunate to see, hear, and enjoy together. We will miss you Jamie.

  • Julie Watson

    Jamie Lembeck

    These words could never show you how much you will be missed. Nor does it serve justice to what I owe you in countless lifetimes after this one. But I know you, and I know that you would appreciate that I did this, in Artvoice, my old newspaper route.

    The news of your death, as I knew it would one day, crushed my heart. Regrets, I have some, as anyone would. For not always being in Buffalo to drive you around in that van or cooking you lavish Italian dinners with your nasty lemon-parsley tea.

    Taking off at anytime you felt like it, to feed you sushi, smash into store displays and yell at clerks for the inaccessible wheelchair entrance; as you often did to me when I was just in my teens, dusting vitamins at Feel Rite on Elmwood.

    Who knew that years later we would be driving to Ikea together to pick out furniture, to house your cd collection and a table that you could fit your legs under… to have a proper sit down dinner of course! This turned into lunch, then dinner, then a Buddhist meeting and then me, practicing Buddhism, strong to this day, all because of you.

    Or the time we were blasting Bob Dylan on your car stereo, eating your home-made brownies… as we drove off to the North Park to watch Life is Beautiful with our dear friend, Daniel.

    Or when we sat outside, in the warm summer night, with all of the Elmwood community, watching Italian cinema in a driveway, drinking wine and eating those brownies, with Daniel…whom you were always bickering with like a brother, but deep down inside I know you loved each other.

    Artpark, Hallwalls, Niagara Falls Casino, Tim’s Rendezvous, Yuki Gunis… I think we marked the walls with your chair in everyplace. Leaving behind not just marks, but traces of you. Traces of Jamie Lembeck, a wonderful human being with a heart and a face that anyone could love. You were so wonderful.

    I will tell my children about you, as I have told everyone I know about you here, in Argentina, miles and miles away from our beloved Jamie. We will be chanting for you tonight Jamie. It’s the best we can do now for you.

    I owe you my deepest debt of gratitude. You showed me the way and taught me many lessons; including how to use a wheel chair lift in a blizzard.

    I have no doubt that the sea to cross the ship of suffering awaits you to beautiful enlightenment.

    All my love,

  • Julie Watson

    I have no doubt that the SHIP to cross the SEA of suffering awaits you to beautiful enlightenment.

  • Kilissa Cissoko

    Jamie… remember that time you had me drive you over to Fort Erie to bet on horses? I had never been to a race track. You were trying to explain it all to me, and I was clueless! I liked the horse “Mo Money”–But you said it was a long shot. Then, when Mo Money came in to win you said we’d have been rich! Too bad we didn’t take the chance! Well… you made many people’s lives rich… Buffalo will miss you so much!!!

  • Beth Graff-Baker

    Jamie, Jamie, Jamie ~

    Words cannot express how much I will, and already miss you. There will never be anyone to touch my life the same way that you have. In my sorrow, Carole reminded me that you are now free! Remember all of the wonderful times we shared. You have given me so many wonderful gifts, perhaps the most valuable for me was knowing that to you, I was special. Surrounded by women constantly, you reassured me that “No One could ever replace me” for you. I think this is how you saw all of us. No One of us could ever replace another. We are all unique and beautiful in our own way. No jealousy. Thank you for this gift. I love you. Beth

  • jamie moses

    This email came from Tony Billoni regarding services.
    Jamie: I have not been near a browser since wed but I heard the piece on the web was great. Thanks so much. The memorial celebration will take place on wed july 9 630pm at the UU church at elmwood. And ferry. There. Will be a service in the church and a musical celebration in the hall immediately after. Please add this to the web listing. Thanks.


  • Annalise and Brian Januszkiewicz

    With respect we must correct the Hallwalls article above. Jamie was not paralyzed, he had sensation in his body but after benign tumors were removed from his spine he was unable to use his limbs and eventually became totally dependent on others for his care. His mind though was very sharp and his sense of humor always apparent.
    We’d run into Jamie at parties and around town over the 20+ years that we knew him and would attempt to make our way through his crowd of friends surrounding him to say hello. Many times his friends would be people that we also knew, and we’d be surprised that they knew Jamie. Everyone knew Jamie. Jamie touched many people. He had a fuller life then many ambulatory people-his efforts to help others with disabilites started years before he was in a chair. We met him as participants in the dance marathon in his effort to raise money for muscular dystrophy in 1981. He continued to raise awareness and help the lives of others and for that we admire him. He will be sadly missed.

  • Darlene


    It has been a long time, you did so much with your life and gave everyone so much courage including my self. I remember helping you drive back from NY back inthe 80’s you hated my driving but I was glad I could help and be part of your life!

    Miss you!

  • Angela

    Jamie – I remember the day you asked me to go kite flying in college. You were a hippie with a long ponytail…certainly not my type, not the type I could bring home to the parents! But something made me say yes and I did bring you home to the parents and you brought me home to yours. Time, miles, children, jobs and life threw us apart for over 20 years but thanks to the internet and Zelda we found each other again. I remember our first phone call after all that time…you told me you would call me back in an hour or so because you had to take a shower and I’m thinking “a guy needs that long to take a shower?” But of course at that point I didnt know what had happened to you. Thanks for all the wonderful times – sitting in your backyard, Springsteen concerts, Niagara Falls and the racetrack, friends houses, reuninon parties, etc. And most of all getting to see Peter and your Mom again also after all those years..I wish now that I had gotten up to see you more often in these last few years but at least we always stayed in touch with long phone conversations…rest in peace dear friend

  • Michele

    To My Godfather Jamie,

    Always a memorable name in my family, always a memory to be told. I am glad to have had the time we had together last year and so very honored that you chose me to help with such a delicate moment in your life. I learned so much about your drive and compassion for life. I loved hearing stories about my father and you when you were young. Going thru your family history was amazing I felt as if I was living each moment with the stories you told me. I miss you very much.


  • Michele

    I think I was only 6 years old when mom and I came to Buffalo to visit you. I remember sitting in a booth and eating my frist “Buffalo Chicken Wing” I have vivid pictures in my head of when mom sent you a belly dancer to work for your birthday and NY pizza via express mail.. She told me that you took her for a ride in your wheelchair one day, I am so happy we took the time to have dinner together on your last day in New York. I am glad you had a chance to say goodbye to your house in Mount Vernon and goodbye to all the people here who loved you so much. Thank you for always being there for us.

  • Friend of Jamie

    To all of Jamie’s friends that are feeling like I am after hearing the sad news: Count your blessings everyday. Be grateful that you knew such a life-affirming individual. Never sweat the small stuff – strive for an ever-higher
    perspective quotient. Listen to more Zappa! Care for those that are worthy –
    that means everyone. R.I.P., Jamie – you would be so proud of how much we will remember you…

  • Beth Graff-Baker

    The Memorial Service is:

    July 9, 2008 – 6:30 PM
    Unitarian Church
    At the corner of Elmwood Avenue & West Ferry

    Gathering immediately following

  • Maureen

    RIP Jamie. I too remember the first day I met you in college…you had a twinkle in your eye and a kick in your step (clogs) that I’ll always remember. I knew from that moment that there was something very special about you. So many memories, such special times. We played mod squad in the quad, sailed on “Dog Breath”, played basketball, Shakespeare In The Park, Pot On A Plate, and on and on. You taught me many things, Jamie, including to accept the things I cannot change and a lot about letting go.

  • I consider myself one of Jamie’s friends and students. I didn’t meet Jamie until long after his halcyon days at Buffalo State; obviously, my loss. He came into my life after I became paralyzed in 1985.

    Jamie taught me how to live life to its fullest even if you happen to be in a wheelchair. He taught me to love music. He taught me to treasure the use of my mind to solve problems you encounter in a wheelchair. He taught me the wonderful value of conversation about the little things in life. He taught me the joy of sitting and enjoying a summer afternoon with a friend without worrying about what time it was. He even taught me how to help him eat.

    We always knew we could be honest with each other about things only quads understand. We talked about pain, medications, doctors, nurses, caregivers, sex, anatomy, etc.

    The last time I spoke with him was about three weeks before he died and he was feeling a little bummed out. We chatted in between his many other calls–I always used my speaker phone when talking with Jamie because Jamie was always on the phone–and told him I’d meet him in the backyard at his house when I got back to Buffalo. Unfortunately, that visit never happened. The last thing I heard Jamie say was “Go to sleep” as he talked to his computer phone.

    “Sleep well, my friend. Your work and your smile remain with us always”

    Joe Ryan

  • I knew Jamie back when he ran dance marathons with his pal Chip

    amazing energy, amazingly sensitive man, a good friend

    to Jamie *clink*

  • Well I knew this was about to happen!!!!!