Monday, October 01, 2007

A sad day...

...for Jefferson Parish and the New Orleans area.

Our beloved Sheriff Harry Lee died today at the age of 75 after a bout with leukemia.

An overweight no-nonsense conservative law-and-order Democrat country-music-listening hunting-enthusiast deep-South sheriff named "Lee" who wore cowboy boots and a white Stetson hat may seem like just another colorful stereotype - until you realize that our Sheriff Lee was not related to the Lees of Old Virginia, but rather was the son of Chinese immigrants.

That's South Louisiana for you.

Lee grew up in New Orleans working in his parents' laundry. He was voted "most likely to succeed" in high school and went on to earn a degree from LSU. He later opened a restaurant with his family, and was elected as a federal magistrate. In 1979, while serving in that capacity, he decided to run for parish sheriff. He would faithfully serve in that office until the day he died, having been elected to seven consecutive terms. Ever the fighter, he was looking forward to his eighth term in office and ready to take on any comers (just a few days ago he called it "political suicide" for anyone to run against him).

Sheriff Lee was an institution in the New Orleans area. He was relentless in his battle against crime. He was beloved by people of Jefferson Parish and the entire region largely because he was so plain-spoken, open, and without the usual political "polish." He never cowered to political correctness, and even his opponents and critics to a man spoke of him as a gentleman of integrity and honor. What you saw was definitely what you got.

People simply felt safer knowing Sheriff Lee was on the job.

During Mardi Gras parades, the sheriff would throw caricatures of himself to adoring crowds. Grace and I have one that he personally tossed to us from his float - a refrigerator magnet bearing his likeness and wearing old-fashioned sheriff's garb. If you can imagine an Asian version of Colonel Sanders, that would be about it. Another "throw" that many a New Orleanian has on their fridges would be deemed shockingly "racist" in other areas of the country: a round yellow happy-face with cartoonishly slanted eyes and a big white cowboy hat. Sheriff Lee was not one to take himself too seriously. He counted it a great honor on one occasion to take the stage and sing with Willie Nelson.

From the following articles (here and here) one would get the impression that Sheriff Lee was hated by the black community. Just the opposite is true. He had his share of disagreements with people over the years, but somehow, they did not become personal feuds. Local television is running tributes to the sheriff from people in the region of every race and ethnicity. It's rare that someone in public office is so universally revered. In the final analysis, Harry Lee protected all of our parish's people from the thugs and cowards who prey upon the weakest in society. He did it with plain-spoken integrity, common sense, gusto, and honor.

They just don't make them like that anymore. Requiescat in pace.

6 comments:

Rosko said...

He will be sadly missed. I remember when Sheriff Lee was running for Governer. He liked his job as Sheriff too much to stay in the race. I was never of Jefferson Parish, but I remember Lee as a kind and gentle man. I met him when I was in second grade (I think) during his Gubernatorial Campaign (I know), and he was very kind to a youngster like myself. Even gave me a plastic badge with his name on it. I kept that thing in my neon orange wallet for months until it broke. Ahhh, good times. I miss home. May Sheriff Lee rest in the peace that only death can bring.

Fr Watson SSP said...

With a name like "Lee" you just knew he'd have to be a good guy.
Kansas Kopperhead

Father Hollywood said...

Interestingly, I was not aware that Sheriff Lee had been an officer in the Louisiana Air National Guard, retiring as a Brigadier General. So, he was also our own General Lee.

Lawrence said...

Was he a Christian?

If not, then it really is a sad day.

Father Hollywood said...

Yes (Presbyterian).

Still a sad day. Hopefully his chief deputy (who succeeds him for the time being, and will almost certainly win election next month) will follow in his footsteps.

Lawrence said...

an officer in the Louisiana Air National Guard,

Salute!