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Remembering Gordon Lee
Hundreds attend service to honor ardent supporter of Union sports teams who died Oct. 10
UNION — Be it bubblegum, good works or timely words of encouragement, Gordon Lee’s well never ran dry.
This point was made repeatedly with humor and emotion late Sunday morning at a service saluting Lee, who died Oct. 10 at age 79, but not before leaving an enormous footprint.
“He touched the lives of every one of us in this room. A piece of him will live on in each of us,” said Jarri Anne McLarin of Baker City, Gordon Lee’s half sister and one of at least 200 people who attended the service at the Union High School gym.
So respected was Lee that a Little League field complex next to the EOLS grounds was named in his honor in 2006. This and other honors never challenged his sense of humility.
“If he were here today he would probably say, ‘What is all the fuss about?’ ” said Denny Langford of Union, who officiated Sunday’s service.
Everyone entering the UHS gym Sunday morning was invited to take a piece of Home Run bubblegum from a large jar. Nobody had to ask why, for the gum was a well-known favorite of Lee’s. He offered a piece of it to all athletes and many others walking by his seat at sporting events. He seemed to have a perpetual supply of gum on hand, just like a home plate umpire has extra baseballs or softballs.
A number of remembrances Langford read told of Lee’s knack for knowing when people needed a helping hand.
“He was always there when I needed someone and even when I didn’t know I needed someone,” said Pam Forrest of Union.
Lee was a constant supporter of Union sports teams. For decades Lee was among Union’s most loyal and vocal sports fans, attending almost every local athletic event. He was such a mainstay that his name was etched into a seat in the UHS gym.
Former UHS athlete Devyn Christensen, now a senior at Utah State University, was one of the beneficiaries of Lee’s loyalty.
“He seemed to live to cheer you on,” said Christensen, a member of Utah State’s basketball team, in a written remembrance. “We should all take a page out of his handbook and treat others the way he did.”
Lee had a way of making people feel at ease even during the darkest moments of his life. Jodi Falk recalled that when Lee lost a leg in an accident at a lumber mill several decades ago, she was on edge when walking into his hospital room after the mishap. Lee wasted no time putting her at ease.
“Just call me a one-legged fat man,” Lee said with a laugh.
Falk immediately felt better. “All the tension was gone,” she said in her written remembrance read by Langford.
Lee’s ability to laugh at himself and his sense of comedic timing was one of many reasons for his popularity.
“If there isn’t a sense of humor in heaven, there is now with Gordon Lee (there),” Carrie Grover of La Grande said in a written remembrance.
Falk said the way Lee bounced back after his accident was a source of inspiration.
“After the healing process he never slowed down. There never was a time when he wasn’t doing something for somebody.”
At softball and baseball games Lee was a immovable force in the stands regardless of how bad conditions were. Sam Johnson of Union, also one of Union’s most loyal sports fans, recalled in a written remembrance a softball game he and Lee attended. A chilling wind was blowing sand mercilessly into the faces of fans and players. Johnson turned to Lee and suggested that they leave. Lee emphatically refused.
Johnson recalled Lee’s response: “If the girls can stand it on the field, we can.”
Those who also knew Lee well included Paul Phillips, the public works superintendent for the City of Union. Phillips worked closely with Lee while organizing the EOLS, dramatically renovating two Little League baseball diamonds near the EOLS grounds and serving as a UHS softball coach. Phillips said that at Union City Hall Lee was known as Mr. Stock Show because of his efforts to help the EOLS and the city work together when conducting the annual stock show.
The work Lee did to upgrade the baseball field near the EOLS grounds was nothing short of phenomenal, Phillips said. Lee helped create one of the best Little League baseball fields in the region, the one later named in his honor. So good was the field that it later drew a big tournament.
“Gordon had convinced us that if we built it they would come, and in 2006 they did,” Phillips said.
The field was selected as the site for a district boys Little League all-star tournament. Phillips said Union won high praise for the quality of the field it provided for the tournament.
Phillips, a coach with the UHS softball team for at least the past six years, also credits Lee with providing instrumental support for that program. He cites Lee’s support as a big reason why the Bobcats won the 2008 state title.
“There are no words that can say what you have meant to me personally and to the softball program at Union High School. You will be forever missed,” Phillips said on Sunday.
A number of people at the service stressed how loyal Lee was to his family. They recalled movingly of how he constantly spoke of his family with enormous pride.
Lee was buried this morning at the Union Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to the Bobcat Booster Club.