Charles E. Lee

Charles E. Lee

DURHAM — Charles Lee never showed up empty handed. Visiting his grandchildren, he brought boxes of doughnuts, bags of fruit, or even a bunch of fortune cookies.

Charles Edward Lee died Friday evening, Jan. 30, at Albany Medical Center Hospital after a stroke. He was 71.

His family remembered him this week as a man with oversized generosity who spent his life as an outdoorsman.

Mr. Lee was born in Conesville, in Schoharie County, on June 24, 1943. He was the son of the late Frank and Dorothy (née Cleveland) Lee.

“Basically, you ate what you killed,” his son, Charles Lee Jr., said of his father’s youth. “They didn’t have a lot of money.”

Frank Lee worked as a laborer in town highway departments and Dorothy Lee worked for the American Thermostat Company, a factory in Catskill Creek Valley that produced thermostats for small appliances.

As a baby, Mr. Lee was nicknamed “Buckshot” by his grandfather. He hunted and fished throughout his life for food, but later it was as much about spending time with his family and friends, members of Buckhorn Lodge and the Bucking Bear Hunting Club.

He attended Conesville schools until the eighth grade, when he went to work as a farm hand. His first jobs as a young man were as a farm mechanic and cutting and skidding trees for his uncle’s lumber business. He learned how to climb trees, later working for a business that mended them, filling their rotted cavities with concrete. He was proud of his daring skill.

“He could climb trees with a spur and boots and not everybody can do that,” said his son. “And he wasn’t afraid of heights; the higher up he was, the happier he was.”

Mr. Lee later worked as an equipment operator, sometimes running the tree trimmer, for the Albany County Department of Public Works. He retired in the 1990s after a back injury and 30 years with the department.

He traded in his cars on a regular basis, often tinkering with a new one, said his ex-wife, Lorrine Helmedach. For his children, he welded and pieced together a go-kart and mini-bikes — like small dirt bikes. He was a junk collector, his son said, and would find pieces for his projects in his backyard.

On trout-fishing trips with his father, Charles Lee Jr. carried a cast-iron pan as they made their way with his uncle along the stream banks in Conesville.

“We’d park one car at one spot in the creek and the other car downstream about a mile or so,” said Mr. Lee Jr. “We’d walk down the stream and fish and, if we got hungry, we’d stop and make a little fire and cook the fish right there next to the stream, then we’d continue fishing and make a day out of it,” said Mr. Lee Jr.

Some of his son’s best memories, though, are of rabbit hunting, when they were alone in the woods listening as the beagles they bred and raised howled and barked, picking up on a scent. The dogs chased rabbits in a circle, eventually to where the hunters stood with their guns ready. It required teamwork, but ended up in competition for who had the most successful shots. Mr. Lee Jr. said his father got nine out of 10.

“It was just living in that particular moment with my father, you know, and doing what we both loved to do,” said Mr. Lee Jr. “There was no other place I’d rather be except for with him.”

Enjoying nature could be a full-family affair, as well. As a young father, Mr. Lee took his children on camping trips nearly every weekend during the summer, where they would spend time with their extended family: uncles, aunts, and cousins. Mr. Lee often swam in any nearby body of water, squirting grandchildren or turning over rocks to look for fish.

“All of my sisters and I, we can shoot really good,” said his daughter, Diane Davis. “And we used to go fishing all the time when we were kids.”

Mr. Lee was like that until his death, his daughter said, constantly moving. On Sunday afternoons, he would spontaneously drive with his family for hours and visit a far-off destination, like Lake Champlain.

As he got older, Mr. Lee spent more of his excursions as a member of his hunting club, where he would enjoy making other people laugh. He was always ready to help a member clean a deer he had killed.

“If you came to him and needed help, he would drop what he was doing, and he would help you,” said Mr. Lee Jr. “And he loved to help people. He loved to solve other people’s problems.”


Charles E. Lee is survived by his wife, Chunyan “Jenny” Lee; seven children, Patricia Lee and her fiancé, Frank Denton, Diane Davis and her husband, Robert, Brenda Heath and her husband, Gerald “Chris,” Ann Berryann, Lorinda Burnham, Samantha Belle, and Charles Lee Jr. and his wife, Kayla; two brothers, David Lee and Harold Lee; 14 grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; nieces, nephews; and cousins. He is also survived by two ex-wives, Lorrine Helmedach and Viola Lee.

His siblings, Ella Strother, Ernest Lee, and Ronald Lee, died before him, as did his parents.

Calling hours will be held on Saturday, Feb. 7, from 1 to 5 p.m. at A.J. Cunningham Funeral Home, 4898 Route 81, Greenville, followed by a memorial service at 5 p.m. Cremation was private.

Mourners may go online at

Memorial contributions may be made to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Post Office Box 417005 Boston, MA 02241-7005 or at

— Marcello Iaia

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