Remembering Bob Lee

robert-lee.jpgCommunity activist Robert “Bob” Lee was always on the lookout for a new challenge. Whether he was selling cars, managing his oil wells or serving as a member of the Signal Hill Historical Society and the Central and Westside Redevelopment Project Area Committees (PACs), Lee gave every project his all. Lee died of heart failure on March 29 at the age of 83.
Lee grew up on a farm in Shongaloo, Louisiana, before moving to Long Beach when he was 17.
“He came to Long Beach with just $20 in his pocket. Everything he made was on his own. He was a man with little education and a lot of goals,” said his wife of 44 years, Aurora.
Lee’s strong work ethic came from his days on the farm.
“He was not going to retire. He was like his father. His father lived until he was 98 and he was still running the farm. If Bob hadn’t passed on the 29th, he would be sitting at his desk right now,” said Aurora. “He was even in the middle of purchasing another oil well. It would have been another challenge and he liked challenges.”
Lee initially made his way out to Long Beach on the suggestion of a friend.
“His friend was selling cars in Long Beach and invited Bob to join him. Bob tried it and liked it. He had a very good head for numbers. He could do a contract backwards and forwards,” Aurora said.
Bob and Aurora met in 1960 and married in 1963. Aurora was working at Bank of America when they met through a friend.
“One of Bob’s business partners had a daughter who worked with me. She asked if I was interested in going out with Bob Lee and I said, ‘I don’t think so’. I was 27 and he was 37. She said, ‘Oh, there’s no problem. He’s a very nice man and he’ll take you out to a really nice place’. So, I decided I would go out with him once. After that, he was always by my side,” Aurora said.
Lee’s next goal was to own a car dealership. In 1970, he jumped on the chance to own a Toyota dealership in Dallas.
“He didn’t have any experience selling new cars, just used cars. But it was something new and it was something he wanted to do. And if it was something he wanted to do, he was going to do it,” Aurora said.
After two years, Lee was ready for a new adventure. His car salesmen friends in Long Beach told him there was a job available for him at Bob’s Spring Cadillacs. So, he sold his dealership in Dallas and came back to Long Beach.
Then it was time to get involved in the oil business. He started out commuting to Oklahoma to manage oil wells and eventually bought his own in Signal Hill. At one time, Bob and Aurora owned 15 oil wells.
In addition, Lee bought a vacant plot of land on the corner of Orange Avenue and Willow Street.
“Bob bought a piece of land and built a driving range. He got this man from France to come and put in a driving range. A big purchase like that didn’t scare him; it scared me. But it paid for itself in the end,” Aurora said.Lee was just as dedicated to his community as he was to everything else in his life. Concerned about redevelopment in Long Beach, he was an outspoken member of both the Westside and Central Redevelopment PACs. “He was one of the most dynamic and stubborn people I ever met. He and I used to fight a lot, but it was good fighting,” said Councilman Larry Forester.
Throughout it all, Aurora and Bob were together—at the office, at PAC meetings, at home.
“All these trips and adventures were very exciting. I’ve been through a lot of things with this man. But no matter what happened, he didn’t let the past plague him. He was about moving forward, not backward,” Aurora said.
Memorial services were held at All Souls Cemetery.

Reminiscing with Rachael

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