Retiring FCA director looks back on decades of growth, friendship with legend

Reagan Lambert retiring as Austin director of FCA

Reagan Lambert with a keepsake presented to him and his wife, Debbie, from Fellowship of Christian Athletes to commemorate the couple’s 30 years with the organization. The fedora hat is in honor of legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

After three decades, Horseshoe Bay resident Reagan Lambert is retiring from his job as the Austin area director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. 

During those 30 years, Reagan went from a staff of one to more than 20 and directed a $1.5 million budget.

“I’m leaving on my own terms,” he said. “I’m turning 65 on July 11. I was hired on July 1, 1990, by (Dallas Cowboys) coach (Tom) Landry. Me and my staff have been planning (the retirement) for five years. I never felt like I’d be doing this for 30 years. I felt like I’d been called to the ministry. I’d been in the insurance business. I’d been faithful to it.”

Steve Vittorini will take over Lambert’s job. 

“I hired him 19 years ago,” Reagan said. “It’s been a smooth, smooth succession.”

Throughout the 1980s, Reagan, wife Debbie, and their children lived in his hometown of Austin. Reagan was a partner in an insurance firm. Though he was successful, he had a change of heart about his chosen career path.

“I lost the desire to do the insurance business,” he said.

He joined his brother at a Christian radio station in Austin. Reagan interviewed athletes at major sporting events — The Masters golf tournament, the Super Bowl, San Antonio Spurs games — about their relationship with God for a 10-minute radio program.

The interviews got the attention of the Christian Broadcasting Network, which asked Lambert to consider doing them live for a national audience.

However, something from his talks with those sports figures stayed with him. They all cited the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as a major influence in their lives. The organization’s mission is to help athletes and coaches at all levels strengthen their faith.

Intrigued, Reagan approached the FCA’s Dallas office about a volunteer opportunity. Officials there noted that while the FCA did not yet have staff or office in Austin, it did have a presence — a legendary one. 

Tom Landry, who served on a state director’s advisory board in Dallas in the late ’80s, also had a home in Lakeway. He was instrumental in organizing fundraisers, including golf tournaments, for the Central Texas FCA. 

After three years of these benefits, the FCA could finally hire an Austin area staff member.

Reagan attended a breakfast meeting with FCA officials regarding the job. They had someone in mind, but it wasn’t him.

“I’m thinking, ‘This would be a great job,’” said Reagan about that meeting. “And it was like having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The angel saying, ‘You’d be great at this,’ and the devil saying, ‘You idiot! They have a guy, you’re too late.’”

The devil won that day. 

Two months after the meeting, Reagan called the Dallas office to inquire about the new Austin hire and how to contact them regarding volunteering.

He was told the hire was never made and the process was restarting. Did he have a recommendation? Yes, he answered. Himself. 

He got the job, resigned from the insurance firm, and went to work finding an office space, furniture, and supplies. He had to come up with the money to pay for it all, and he turned to God.

His prayers were answered. He was given an office as well as free furniture.

Taking the FCA job meant a big pay cut. He was making about one-third of his salary at the insurance firm.

“We sold everything we owned: an old boat, hunting vehicle,” wife Debbie said. “We hung on to our home, and God would drop a part-time job on me.”

“But Debbie and I were convinced this is what God wanted us to do,” Reagan said. “And we have to trust that God will take care of us.”

And that’s what happened, the Lamberts said. People paid for vacations for the family, gave them vehicles, sent them checks in the mail, and offered free legal and financial advice. 

“So many people came to us,” he said. “Like cars and vacation homes, things you can’t buy. We had checks in the mail that were like $500. (The good Lord) surrounded us with people who gave us wisdom and direction and didn’t charge us. They gave us counsel and advice to help us manage. And today, when I retire, I’m not anywhere near poverty.” 

“We tried to remain flexible and open,” Debbie said. “Flexible in how it was going to happen.”

By the third golf tournament benefiting the Central Texas FCA, Reagan was there along with Landry, who faithfully attended every one even though he didn’t play anymore. The coach would sit in a golf cart with Debbie, and the two would cheer on the players and talk. 

“He’d come into town and take pictures,” Reagan said. “Coach was at all the events. He remained a really, really close friend. He was just amazing. He was the real deal. What you saw on television, he was exactly that way in person with more personality. He got a kick out of both Debbie and I. He appeared shy, stoic, and unemotional, but in real life, he was pleasant, very charming. He was the most solid individual you could be around. You could trust everything he said.”

Today, the area FCA hosts 100 events a year, and Reagan, who says the organization rarely pays guests to speak, still has the same approach, “God is going to bring the people, and they’ll give.”

“As you raised more, you got more responsibility,” he said. “I was confident I could sell. I’m selling Jesus. If you believe in what you’re asking people to support — and they can see that in your heart — you’re changing people’s lives for eternity. That’s a little bit higher calling, and I can get behind that and passionate about that.”

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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