I don’t remember meeting Lee. I’ve just known him for so many years and had so many experiences with him that it seems like he has always been part of my life. Lee and his wife Barb were the kinds of people that made you feel like family. They each had the same rare gift. They were truly interested in other people. When they asked you how you are, it wasn’t like the kind of dialogue you speak in a beginning language lesson. “How are you? Fine, and you? No, they really wanted to know how you were doing. They listened in their own ways and not like someone that was just keeping quiet until it was their turn to speak. They really listened.
Lee would always follow a question with another question and soon you found yourself sharing at a deeper level than an average conversation.
Lee was a writer and his tool of choice was a #2 pencil and whatever was at hand to write on like a napkin, a tiny notebook, or a piece of 3-hole paper. He took notes, made observations, and he asked questions. He was always on the lookout for story ideas for his weekly newspaper column, He was never without his pencil. I asked him about and he told me he liked the physicality of pressing pencil to paper, the motions that made letters on the page, and how it slowed down his mind. He wrote a weekly column which the community looked forward to reading because we never had a clue what he would write about next.
He wrote a piece on my son who had just returned from hiking the Appalachian Trail from one end to the other. Lee took him out to lunch and hung on his every word. It helped my son process his experience and he has the column framed and hanging in his house.
He was a witness to the lives he observed. He listened and he wrote. We all need a witness, especially someone who values our experience and will help us frame it through his unique perspective. We will miss his take on life.
I was fortunate to witness his life as well. What struck me was the depth of his passion and enjoyment of his family, writing, and baseball. I told him I didn’t enjoy baseball and he spent time explaining why he found it so captivating. There was so much to it, he told me. So many strategies, details, and statistics. You’ll like it if you spend some time really watching a game. Get into the strategy he said.
In the summer, Barb and Lee would show up at our house and we would sit on the deck and watch the sunset on Lake Ontario. We called it the summer sunset series. I asked Lee how he would describe the sinking of the sun into the water and the resulting display of brilliant colors. He thought for a moment and said “some things just need to be experienced. I’m profoundly grateful that I experienced the wonderful man who was Lee. He encouraged me to write. He read and commented on some of my pieces gently leading me to become a better writer through his curiosity and questions. He did that for a lot of people.
The Rev. Lance Robbins shared a beautiful meditation at Lee’s service from Henri Nouwen. It talked about how a person’s spirit abides in us once they die. I believe it. I will hold that spirit that is Lee close to my heart. I can see him scratching his pencil across a napkin, looking up with that grin on his face, happy to have captured an idea before it got away. Go with God, Lee, and don’t forget to give Barb a kiss for me.