Raymond Eugene Lamb, 68, a former air traffic controller who became a homeless activist, died May 14 of complications from Huntington's disease at the Washington Home nursing home.
Mr. Lamb, for 17 years a member of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association, lost his job when President Ronald Reagan fired about 11,500 union members in 1981 for striking illegally. The loss of that job, friends and family said, caused his world to fall apart. He left his apartment in Leesburg and began living on a steam grate at 21st and E streets NW in downtown Washington.
He was a named plaintiff in at least two lawsuits with the Community for Creative Non-Violence. One accused the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of undercounting the homeless population. The other lawsuit forced the District's Board of Elections in 1984 to accept such locations as a steam grate, street corner or porch as residences for voting purposes, a decision that still stands, according to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
"I never voted before," Mr. Lamb had said, "but I applied to register because it's a constitutional right. If I decide not to vote again, that's my decision. I don't want it taken away from me."
He acknowledged drinking a lot, and quitting several times. What neither he nor his family knew in the mid-1980s was that he also suffered from Huntington's disease, a genetic brain disease that causes uncontrollable movements, abnormal gait, slurred speech, mental deterioration and marked personality changes.
Mr. Lamb was always intellectually engaged, said one of his nieces, Joset Powell. When she was growing up, her then-single uncle made sure that she was a member of a book club and was introduced to good literature.
While he was an air traffic controller, he helped train others and served as a mentor to the newer African American controllers, she said. And even after he was homeless, he was known to other homeless people for always having a book at hand.
A native of New York City, Mr. Lamb enlisted in the Air Force in 1954 and served for 11 years, as a mechanic, clerk and electrician, with at least one tour in Germany. After his discharge in 1965, he became an air traffic controller
"He always had a fun-loving , easygoing personality," Powell said. "He could draw -- he was a good sketch artist. He loved to dance. I don't know how to say this, but he was a big tease, and extremely bright."
For a time, Mr. Lamb lived at the John Filligar Farm in Alderson, W.Va., a community for District homeless people. While there, he carried a Bible with him, as well as books about religion and beekeeping. On top of his pile of books, a Washington Post article said, was a volume called "The Incredible Human Potential."
Mr. Lamb did not carry a grudge against Reagan for firing him from his $50,000-a-year job. "There's no need to be angry,'' he told a United Press International reporter in 1983, adding that he planned to watch Reagan's second inaugural parade from his home on the sidewalk.
His marriages to Gail Lamb and Shirley Lamb ended in divorce.
Survivors include two sons from his first marriage, Kenneth Eugene Lamb of Virginia Beach and Michael Raymond Lamb of Fort Washington; a son from his second marriage, Eric Lamb of Baltimore; two sisters, Melvine Williams of Chesapeake, Va., and Thelda Harris of Hampton, Va.; a brother, John Lamb of Houston; and three grandchildren.