Lee Laz passed away peacefully at his home of 61 years in Aurora on June 27th. Born in Chicago on January 24th, 1923 to Marie Pelikan and Joseph Laz, Lee was blessed with parents who shared his talent for finding joy in life and taking the rest of us along for the ride. Lee and his brothers, Bill and Don, were a trio who breathed life into every gathering. The Laz boys exuded charisma. The love and friendship that Lee found within his own family established a foundation that would define the rest of his life.
Like many of his generation, Lee served his country in WWII. He was a US Navy bomber pilot who proudly fought the war in the south Pacific, and was awarded the Navy Cross for “extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy.” Characteristically, Lee was humble when reminded of that acknowledgement and others, but his Naval service and the memories of those years were pivotal in his life. Lee recorded recollections of his Naval experience and they are filed at the Veteran’s History Project in the Library of Congress.
Lee’s best friend from the Navy, Jud Doane, was tragically lost in the war, but that friendship led Lee to Jud’s sister, Bette Doane, who Lee married in 1946. Lee and Bette settled in Aurora after he finished his degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Lee owned a Chrysler dealership in Aurora during the 1950s until he went to work for Ryerson Steel in Chicago where he remained until his retirement.
In his professional life he was a natural leader. The Laz boy was frequently called upon to breathe life into enterprises that required his gift – whether applying his deft hand with humor or his ability to inspire with Johnny Mercer’s “Ac-cent-chu-ate the Positive” - Lee seemed to always know how to make it right.
That everyday heroism was not lost on his daughters: Susan, Barbara, Peggy and Laurie, who believed that their dad could do anything. In addition to his movie-star good looks, Lee was smart, funny, helpful, sweet, and generous in spirit. It takes a special man to raise four daughters and to make them believe in their ability to do everything. The Laz girls were blessed to spend abundant time with their dad, especially after his retirement. There are no words to express how much they will miss him.
How fortunate was this man? Lee’s legacy includes thirteen grandchildren: Elizabeth, Tim, Jeff, Mike, Peter, Tom, Jesse, Katy, Mary, Callie, Emma, Jordan and Louisa. Every one of his grandchildren would list their grandpa as a hero to them. He was endlessly entertaining and loving, and there is no doubt that the wonderful stories he shared with them will live on. To start, his great grandchildren: Joe, Nathalie, Aidan, Maggie, Ellie, Ada, Matthew and Clara are certain to embody some of that Lee Laz spirit.
One of the happiest surprises of Lee’s family life was the addition of four sons-in-law: Jerry, Ron, Dave and Jim. They were truly the sons he never had, and they knew that the respect and affection that they shared with Lee was rare.
Lee also loved his nieces & nephews like his own kids, and they will miss the joy of a visit with Uncle Lee.
But Lee’s wife Bette, with whom he spent 66 years, was the center of his life. Theirs was a love story for the ages. The devotion they shared through thick and thin, the partnership that looked after their own and others, and the friendship and fun they had together was their gift.
This was a good man. He lived life well.
The family is privately memorializing Lee, but welcomes the opportunity to visit with extended family and friends who would like to celebrate Lee's life. If anyone would like to remember Lee with a charitable donation, the family suggests the Honor Flight program (honorflight.org) or the Disabled American Veterans.
Published in Beacon News on July 1, 2014