George Lee

DEREK CLARKSTON/Kodiak Daily Mirror

George Lee throws the first pitch at the 2018 Kodiak Little League opening ceremonies at Baranof Field.  

There are not a lot of perks that come with being a reporter. 

Hospitality rooms are nice, but the most rewarding part of the job is getting to meet members of the community. 

I have met a fair share of characters during my 13 years — it will be 14 in March — at the Daily Mirror. 

There are people who I don’t remember, faces I remember but have forgotten their names (sorry if you are one) and people who I only deal with when I need a quote.

George Lee didn’t fall into any of those three categories — he was a friend. A friend to many. 

George, a lifelong resident of Kodiak, lost his battle with cancer Thursday morning. He was 63. 

George was part of many circles, which is why his passing will send rippled throughout The Rock.

I friended George when he was wearing his Special Olympics and Little League hats — he shaped athletes in both organizations for three decades.  

George — whose parents moved to Kodiak after World War II  — graduated from Kodiak High School in 1974, and besides a few journeys to the Lower 48, always called the island his home.

The late-Jim Balamaci — CEO of Special Olympics Alaska and resident of Kodiak in the 1980s — got George hooked with Special Olympics. 

George started the Kodiak’s unified floor hockey program, and in 2001 that team won a gold medal at the 2001 Winter World Games in Anchorage.

“He (Balamaci) gave me a phone call one night and said, ‘I need you to start a hockey team right now,’” George told the Daily Mirror in 2018. 

He later became Kodiak’s area director and traveled to Ireland for world games as a coach for basketball. George — an avid bowler — coached the island’s Special Olympics bowling team for decades. He gave up that position in 2017 after being diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.  

“Special Olympics has been a big part of my life for a long time,” Lee told the Daily Mirror in 2017. 

It was up and down from there for George. He battled the horrible disease, while returning to life as a father of three and a husband. He said goodbye to the island months ago and finished his life in Arizona.   

A year before he was diagnosed with cancer, Lee joined my Kodiak American Legion baseball coaching staff. His son, Nevin, was on the team. 

All of Thursday, I thought about that season and how fortunate I was getting to spend the summer with George. 

On the team’s first trip, I was hit in the eye with a baseball and couldn’t drive for a few days. Lee took the keys to the van and never gave them back. He enjoyed to drive and had a leadfoot.  

George’s stories — he had plenty, most not suitable for print — were entertaining and always ended with a laugh. Kids loved being around him, and he loved being around kids. 

George rarely missed any sporting events that involved his kids and often bounced from one field to the next so he wouldn’t miss any of the action. 

After coaching baseball most of his life, he finished his Little League career guiding his daughter’s softball team — he was well-known for stacking his team to win the championship. His last team was coaching an all-star squad in 2018.       

Tributes and memories of Lee flooded Facebook all day Thursday. The post that hit home with me the most was from Kodiak High School senior AJ Barton, who was on the 2016 Legion team that Lee assisted with. 

“You’ll always be loved, coach. Most of my success in baseball throughout the years was because of this man right here. He taught me so much over the years. He had a huge impact on my life between baseball and all of the life lessons. He never stopped smiling, even when he was frustrated. He always found ways to cheer up players and have fun even in a sucky situation. You will be missed,  coach Lee.”

Yes, George, you will be missed. You were one of the good ones. 

(1) comment

Oceanman5740

George was a real and authentic Kodiak character. He was among a small group of people that make Kodiak such a special place. He truly will be missed.

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