SOUTH PORTLAND – William Lambert built his own house on Settler Road in the late 1980s.

He later built an addition on his daughter’s house and a shed for her. About eight years ago, he built a three-season porch onto his house.

Mr. Lambert, known by most people as “Billy,” was paralyzed from the waist down. He wore leg braces and used crutches to get around. More recently, he used a walker.

“He would throw his legs forward to walk,” explained his daughter Melody Stickney of Gorham. “He refused to give up. You couldn’t stop him. He was always positive and optimistic. It’s like he was an angel on this earth, here to teach us a lesson.”

Mr. Lambert died on Tuesday after a bout with pneumonia. He was 71.

In his early years, he worked in the construction industry as a union ironworker. His daughter said he walked the “high steel” beams without a line or harness for support. She said he had a good reputation in the industry, taking on many dangerous jobs that other people turned down.

On a drizzly day in 1973, he was on the top floor of an eight-story building in Concord, N.H., when it collapsed, plummeting him to the ground. Concrete slabs and steel beams landed on top of him. Stickney said the rescue workers assumed her father was dead. She said the accident left him paralyzed from waist down.

“He didn’t accept that he would never walk,” she said. “He was paralyzed, but he didn’t know it. He didn’t act like it. He drove without hand controls. He mowed his own lawn until this summer. He was crazy independent.”

Mr. Lambert was described by his children on Thursday as funny, kind, determined and hard-working. They said he embraced life and lived it to its fullest.

He was a loving husband of Cecelia Lambert, his wife for 40 years. Stickney said her parents met through a mutual friend. At the time, she was divorced with six young children, ages 4 through 11. Stickney said he was a great father and a great man.

“He wasn’t a stepdad to me. He was my dad,” she said. “He was the best. He was kind, patient, and he spoiled us. He was a mentor to us. He taught us to work hard, and he led by example.”

After his accident, Mr. Lambert stayed active. For several years, he dabbled in real estate. He bought a couple of apartment buildings and seven or eight houses to rent. For a few years, he and a friend also renovated houses. He immersed himself in his family and enjoyed spending time with his children and grandchildren.

His daughter Penny Reny of Biddeford said he inspired so many people. She laughed Thursday, sharing his feelings about using a wheelchair. He had refused.

“We told him, ‘just get one of those scooter things you can zip around in,”‘ she recalled. “He looked at me like I had three heads.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: [email protected]