On May 22, 2006, our esteemed friend, Albert R. Lea, passed away after a brief illness. His health had been deteriorating gradually over the past two or three years. I was not a classmate of Al’s, but I am honored to write this obituary for my great friend at the request of his family.
Al Lea matriculated at Amherst in the fall of 1939. He was a member of Phi Gamma Delta. By attending the summer semester in 1942 he was able to graduate after the fall semester of that year. Although I was a freshman during those months I knew him more than casually because we shared some mutual friendships, and we participated in a legendary melee as allies in front of the Beta house during the summer of ’42. After we both landed in Kansas City during the 1950s, our renewed friendship gradually assumed precedence over all others.
I can state with sincerity that Al Lea was one of the finest and most considerate gentlemen it has been my privilege to know. He was unfailingly thoughtful and generous almost to a fault. He performed more kind deeds by accident than most folks perform on purpose. I know these statements are true, because, directly or indirectly, my friends and I were so often the beneficiaries of his constant desire to please.
I am not privy to the number of “letters” Al won while competing for Amherst’s athletic teams. I am certain, however, that Al starred on the 1942 soccer team which won the New England championship, and he also lettered for our baseball program, which I seem to recall also won a championship. The bottom line is that Al Lea was a tremendous competitor. I learned this truth first hand during many occasions on the golf course, and I know his tennis and squash buddies either measured him seriously or paid the piper when the matches were over.
Al was born in Melrose, MA, in 1921, but he spent his childhood in Bronxville. After his folks divorced, he entered Lawrenceville in the seventh grade from which he graduated in 1939. Having spent literally a jillion occasions with Al when other friends and Mr. J. Barleycorn became vigorous factors in the conversations, I can assure you that Al Lea loved Lawrenceville. I cannot attest to his ability as a baseball player there, but I can state for a fact that he wore a Lawrenceville baseball cap on the golf course almost up to the day he died. Although Al was not one to abuse a yarn with excessive exaggeration, it is true that when Mr. Barleycorn entered the fray, the Lawrenceville stories tended to defy credible accuracy.
In early 1943, Al entered the navy as an ensign, and he was discharged in 1945 as a lieutenant. He served mostly in the South Pacific aboard the “Savo Island” which he defined as a “baby” aircraft carrier. He served as a supply officer and as a gunnery officer. He was involved in several major actions, but, in particular, his memories of the Leyte Gulf and Philippine operations were poignant. It is a fact that Al seldom failed to attend a reunion of his “Savo Island" buddies during all of the rest of his life.
After WWII, Al came to Kansas City where he became involved in the printing business. He soon was able to own an equity position in the Ashcraft Printing Company where the major forte was the design and printing of industrial and mail order catalogues. Ashcraft operated nationally. Al prospered greatly in this endeavor which provided him national celebrity in the industry. He became a director and national chairman of the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Wholesaler's Association.
The greatest kudo of all for Al might be his dedication to his family. With his first wife, he had four daughters who have distinguished themselves in several different fields. Several graduated from Smith College. He claimed his investment in Smith was so extensive that he expected to have a building named the “Albert R. Lee Something Or Other” after his demise! Al and his second wife, Helen Lea, with whom he shared more than forty great years, altered the gender pattern by having two sons. One son is in California where he is involved in the movie industry, and one of the daughters is a notably successful stockbroker in New York.
Folks! This guy will be missed by me and a goodly portion of the surviving denizens of Kansas City! His heart was golden, and when the blue chips were on the table, there never was a greater partner to have at the throttle of a six foot putt!
—J. Wells (Woody) Steinwart ’46