History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - People - Bios

Dr. Karen Lamb


August 21, 1937
January 30, 2009
Primary Involvements:

Community supporter





Karen Lamb was the wife of long-time mayor of Milwaukee, Henry Maier, but in the LGBT community is best known as a consistent supporter of the community and its causes, primarily in the areas of health and equality. She made headlines when she became a columnist for The Wisconsin Light, a Milwaukee-based newspaper geared to the gay and lesbian community.

Her obituary was written by Emily Bultman for "GM Today" on Feb 6, 2009, Updated Jan 24, 2020 reads as follows:

    Former Milwaukee mayor's wife leaves legacy of her own
    ...Lamb a consistent supporter of numerous community causes

    Former Milwaukee Mayor Henry W. Maier was not the only member of his family who left behind a legacy following death: His widow, Karen Lamb, who passed away Jan. 30, created a name for herself as a community activist known for her Southern hospitality.

    "Karen was a Southern belle from Georgia. She exuded Southern hospitality and was friendly to everyone she met," her friend, Jerry Johnson, said. "I will cherish the times I went out to her house to spend the day with her. We would go shopping, eat lunch or plant vegetables in her garden. She was definitely my best friend."

    Lamb, 71, died at her Delafield home on Nagawicka Lake after battling cancer, Johnson said. Lamb met Maier in 1974 at the National Democratic Charter Convention and the couple married two years later. Maier, who served as Milwaukee mayor from 1960 to 1988, died of pneumonia at their home in 1994 at age 76.

    Johnson said the couple always dreamed of owning a house on a lake. "Karen's son, Robert, found the house while Henry and her were on vacation and he bought it before they saw it," Johnson said. "She loved fishing and living on the lake."

    A registered nurse who held a doctorate degree in medical sociology, Lamb was a consistent supporter of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and their causes.

    Lamb was co-chairwoman of the Community Advisory Council, which started the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin. "Her leadership in the mid-1980s gave instant credibility to the fight against AIDS in Milwaukee," said AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin President and CEO Doug Nelson. "She never gave up this cause."

    Johnson said he encouraged Lamb to write a column for the Wisconsin Light, the first Milwaukee-based gay and lesbian newspaper. "Karen was proud she was the only mayor's wife in the country who wrote for a gay newspaper," said Johnson, who founded the publication with Terry Boughner. "She wrote her column until the last issue."

    Lamb attended and later hosted several lakefront parties at her home for the Cream City Foundation, at which her guests always enjoyed taking lake rides in the pontoon boat. "The Cream City Foundation is committed to the LGBT community, and Karen was a strong ally and strong voice for us," said Cream City Foundation Executive Director Maria Cadenas.

    Joe Brehm remembers the many conversations he had with Lamb at his gay bar, This Is It, in downtown Milwaukee. "Karen will be missed. She was a benefactor for so many people," Brehm said. "She stood up for people and never backed down from what she believed in."

    Lamb was buried in Atlanta, next to her husband.

Her obituary in the local Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 'Online' can be read here. Additional facts about Dr. Lamb as derived from that obituary:

    "Lamb grew up on the family farm in Decatur, Ga., near Atlanta. She became a public health nurse in rural Georgia, later earning her doctorate in medical sociology."

    "Both Lamb and Maier were divorced - she was a working mother raising a son - when the two met in 1974 at the National Democratic Charter Convention. She heard Maier speak at an urban policy forum and was impressed."... "The two married in 1976."

    After her marriage to Henry Maier, she "quietly and matter-of-factly declined to change her name. She continued to pursue her own professional interests in her new city, including research on child abuse as an associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and research analyst at Milwaukee Area Technical College."

    "They were both political and strong-willed and, as Lamb later said, proved that it is not necessarily opposites who are attracted to each other... She pursued her political interests and causes, too, including advocacy for the Equal Rights Amendment and gay rights."

    "Lamb's community involvement came to include health and social issues related to AIDS. The epidemic hit home with a call from a friend who had discovered that he had the disease... That was in 1983... In 1985, activist Lamb and then-Archbishop Rembert Weakland became co-chairpersons of the forerunner of what is now the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin."

First column in new 'Wisconsin Light' newspaper
(Wis. Light vol. 1-01, Nov. 1987)

Column in second issue critcizing Milw Journal-Sentinel coverage of the new new 'Wisconsin Light' newspaper
(Wis. Light vol. 1-02, Dec. 1987)


First apperance in Masthead as a Columnist
(Wis. Light vol. 1-03, Jan. 1988)

Two articles about Lamb
(Wis. Light vol. 1-03, Jan. 1988)

'A Note from Karen Lamb' Column
(Wis. Light vol. 1-03, Jan. 1988)

Photo: Dr. Lamb at AIDS Walk Breakfast with Pat Goodrich, state Secy. of Health and Human Services
(Terry Boughner of Wis. Light behind Karen)
(Jerry Johnson Wis. Light archives)

Photo: from 10 Year Anniversary celebration of Wis. Light newspaper;
(l to r: Terry Boughner, Milw. Mayor John Norquist, Jerry Johnson, Dr. Lamb)
(Wis. Light vol. 11-02, Jan. 1998)


Sale of Wis. Light announced
(Wis. Light vol. 11-13, June 1998)

Continuation of article from page 1 (to left);
see two references to Dr. Lamb in far right column
(Wis. Light vol. 11-13, June 1998)

Last 'A Note from Karen Lamb' Column
(Wis. Light vol. 11-13, June 1998)

Photo: with 'Cheese Cake Joe' at Wis. Light pig roast
(Wis. Light vol. 14-01, Sept. 2001)

Invitation to Fundraiser hosted by Dr. Lamb
(Wis. Light vol. 14-04, Nov. 2001)


Remembrance of Dr. Karen Lamb
(Quest vol 16-01, Feb. 2009)
Celebration of Dr. Karen Lamb at 'This Is It' bar
(Quest vol 16-18, October 2009)

AIDS Walk 1990; with Pat Goodrich
(and in background, Terry Bougner)

AIDS fundraiser, Jet's Place, December 1990;
with Jet (on left) and
Mr. Gay Wisconsin, J.J. Newman (on right)

With husband Mayor Henry W. Maier
(from JSOnline obituary)

Credits: Obituary researched and provided by Michail Takach.
Photos from the archives of Wisconsin Light newspaper, and
Wis. Light excerpts researched by Don Schwamb.
Web site concept, design and contents by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: July-2023.

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