Camp Jabberwocky Director Steps Down

Gillian Lamb Butchman Has Resigned to Pursue Ever-Widening Mission of Building Similar Camps


After 35 years, Gillian Lamb Butchman quietly stepped down from her role as director at Camp Jabberwocky on Saturday. The daughter of Jabberwocky founder Helen (Hellcat) Lamb, Mrs. Butchman's resignation leaves the venerable cerebral palsy camp with no Lamb in an active director role for the first time in its 52-year history.

John Lamb, Mrs. Butchman's brother, stepped down as director of the August camp last year after 33 years. Jack Knower, a special education teacher from New York and a Jabberwocky counselor for 25 years, takes over as August co-director next week.

Mrs. Butchman's resignation from director of the July camp did not come as a surprise, since it is known that she had begun to focus her attention away from the camp on Martha's Vineyard and onto her work to establish similar camps in other parts of the country and the world. She has helped to launch El Covite in Mexico, Looking Glass in Mississippi and Katie's World in Maryland.

"That was one of the things Gillian did that was so great," said John Lamb in a telephone interview yesterday. "The basic idea was to start getting other people to start similar kinds of camps in other parts of the country."

Mrs. Butchman could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Lamb said Mrs. Butchman's resignation had been in the picture for a long time. On Saturday at the final performance of Footloose, the play put on by the July camp, Mrs. Butchman was honored with a bouquet of flowers.

The resignation does not leave the camp without the influence of the Lamb family. Both Mrs. Butchman and Mr. Lamb remain on the board of directors, and Mr. Lamb said his daughter Caitlin hopes to take over as director of either the July or August camp in the near future. The July camp is for adults and the August camp is for children.

"She had this idea that she would take over the kids camp, but she's getting married this year and she doesn't feel ready for it," Mr. Lamb said. "I agree with her. It's a hell of a job."

Mr. Lamb said his mother, at age 91 is still connected to the camp.

"Hellcat will tell you she's still camp director," he laughs. "The stationary says so. Is she all that involved in camp? Yes, she is in a way."

Helen Lamb started Camp Jabberwocky in July of 1953 as a place for children and adults with cerebral palsy. That summer she brought five children to stay in the cottage named Happy Days in the Camp Ground in Oak Bluffs. Today, 30 and 35 campers from five to 55 years old and 20 to 25 staff members inhabit a space in Vineyard Haven, complete with handicap ramps, cabins and lots of space.

Mr. Lamb said in recent years, however, the board has split over some of the philosophy of the camp. He said it has not been easy at times, although the problems go back almost a decade.

"All of these people, my sister included, want what is best for camp," he said. "They are all fine people who I sometimes disagree with."

Some of the problems have cropped up as rules and regulations mandated by the government have increased. In the early days of the camp, volunteers offered services, sometimes with little experience. Now to even prepare food for the camp, employees must take certain courses. To drive the camp van, a person must hold a special license and be trained in first aid.

There is also a significant amount of paperwork to be handled. Mr. Lamb said the board would like to hire an executive director to supervise both the July and August camps and deal with the paperwork.

Another split has come in how to treat the campers.

"One group is saying we want to normalize their lives as much as possible," he said. "For myself I'm saying that's great but they are different. You are in fact in charge and you cannot allow them to do some of those things."

As the board sorts through these differences, camp will continue. The August camp begins in just a couple weeks. Campers will stay for four weeks and enjoy all the Island has to offer.

"There is no bad blood and no ill feelings about any of this," said one board member who did not want to be named. "Gillian thinks she wants to proselytize the mission of Camp Jabberwocky and that is a wonderful thing for her. It's not about an individual, it's about the beautiful nugget of Camp Jabberwocky and its essence. That is what we intend to perpetuate."