I knew Mr. Lee had once been a teacher, but I didn't know he was a scholar. I knew he was passionate about the Civil War but was shocked by his encyclopedic knowledge of the period. I knew that Mr. Lee was a Democrat but was unaware of the power and depth of his activism.
All was revealed in a four hour political beat down that was our first meeting. I got my clock cleaned... thoroughly and completely. One might ask why I endured the pain and humiliation. Simple. I loved his daughter.
There would be more battles. In time, I actually could hold my own against him but the first battle was the memorable one. I lost the argument but won life's lottery. A few months later his daughter became my wife.
Mr. Lee is a slice of that old style American-can-do-ism that is quickly fading from the cultural scene. He was a man ahead of his time. He and my mother-in-law adopted four children of mixed races in the 1960's and raised them in rural Wisconsin. Mr. Lee was a farmer, teacher (he taught inmates in prison as well as in high school), an entrepreneur, and an activist (There is a bluff outside of LaFarge, Wisconsin, where Gordon Lee planted about 10,000 trees in the late 1960s helping to reduce flooding in the Kickapoo Valley and in part negating the need to build a dam in the area).
Oh yeah, he was also legally blind, which was a great source of frustration in Mr. Lee's life because he never accepted his impairment. We have pictures of him driving tractors and riding mowers through the streets of his small town.
Mr. Lee was the great man who lived in a small towns. He was a good father. A fantastic citizen. Now he rests on a beautiful hill, overlooking a grove of trees, in a part of the state that still values family and embodies the protestant work ethic that defined his life.
Gordon Henry Lee, rest in peace.