Leighton Lee II
Leighton Lee II touched many lives, in many different ways –
as a husband and father, an engineer and businessman, a sailor,
and one who believed in giving back to the community.
Today, on wooded sites in Westbrook and Essex, stands the company he founded. The Lee Company is a leader in the field of MicroHydraulics. But it started simply, with one man.
During the Second World War, Leighton worked at the Chandler-Evans Company in Hartford, developing fuel controls for jet engines. It was here that he met and married his wife, and it was during this time that he realized the jet engine was the wave of the future. And so when the war was over, he struck out on his own. His office was the dining room table, with three small children underfoot. The company grew and eventually moved to the Connecticut shoreline.
For Leighton and those who worked alongside him,
it was an exciting time--aircraft were becoming faster and lighter, and the space race was on. The Lee Company became known for innovation in miniature, manufacturing parts to fit these high-tech craft. The company's parts walked on the moon--and a reputation for quality and precision took hold in the industry. There were good times too--tales of practical jokes; motorbike races in the hallways; and lunches at the "Jetty" where debates on engineering were notoriously lively.
Leighton had a unique management style. His door was always open and people walked in and out of his office all day--to discuss sales, finances, engineering problems, marketing. He could switch in and out of different disciplines easily, but creating engineering solutions was his real genius. His ever-present notebooks of equations and sketches gave birth to the Lohm Laws and his name on twenty-nine patents.
His passion for innovative solutions
filled his home as well. A modern house on Sachem's Head Harbor, filled with six children, the Lee house was unlike any on the harbor. Leighton used railroad tracks to make a launching railway for his sailboat; he engineered a one-of-a-kind flying bridge with counterweights for a pathway down to the water's edge; he tinkered with most commercially made machines. Etta's laundry machine lasted two decades with his refits, and during the fuel crisis the family car had vacuum gauges to test gasoline consumption. He experimented--once--with making plastic birdhouses in the kitchen oven, with malodorous results. He built stone walls with huge boulders, moving them into place with methods his sons remember as lower-tech than the pharaohs building the pyramids. At home, he was often busy with a new project.
Except on summer Saturdays.
On those days, he went sailboat racing on his 22-foot Ensign. He grew up sailing, spending summers in Maine, and he passed his love for the water on to his children. Every race was a new experiment: to gamble on the left side of the racecourse, or head for the strongest current, or take a lone tack to shore in the hopes of finding a windshift. He won local races into his seventies.
Leighton and his wife lived modestly and worked hard, and they generously shared the rewards of those years with the community. In the early 1990s, they donated 48 acres of land to the Shoreline Foundation. The proceeds from the sale of that property became the leadership gift that helped to make the Shoreline Foundation's Aquadome Facility, in Madison, possible. They were also catalysts for the Valley Shore YMCA's Initiative 2000 fundraising program, which culminated in the opening of the Lee Family Pool.
In 1999, they established the Lee Scholarship Fund. The Fund has already provided over 100 scholarship grants to family members of Lee Company employees.
Just like the sailboat he loved, Leighton left a large wake as he moved through life. But unlike many, he did not spend his time savoring the achievements in his path. He had a rare ability to look forward and plan for what would come.
In the early 1980s, well before he retired, he turned the helm of the company to Leighton Lee III, his eldest son. Four of the Lee children, and many others who helped make The Lee Company what it is today, will carry his work into the future.
He will be sorely missed, by his beloved wife, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren; and the many others whose lives he touched, in the unique way that only he could.