“Elder George Lee: ‘I Owe Every Opportunity to the Lord’” Ensign, Dec. 1975, 26–27
The boys tossed a football to him during recess and told him to run with it. Then they tackled him. “But gradually,” Elder Lee reminisced, “they explained to me what the game was all about. And soon word got around school that ‘this Lee boy is a great football player. Nobody can tackle him.’
“I’m not bragging,” Elder Lee continued, “but the boys used to get a kick out of all lining up on the field just to see who could tackle me. At a given signal I would start running toward them with the football under one arm. But I guess I was elusive and slippery enough that somehow I was never tackled.”
It is this same perseverance, but for deeper reasons, that enabled Elder Lee and his missionary companion to establish a branch of the Church in the Southwest Indian Mission in an area where LDS missionaries had never been successful before. It was 1964 and their mission president had sent them to Grease Point in northern Arizona. For six months Elder Lee and his companion slept out-of-doors in sleeping bags, trying, but without success, to gain access to that area. Finally their efforts were rewarded when an influential Indian family was converted to the gospel and offered their home as headquarters for the beginning branch.
George Lee looks back to his childhood with deep appreciation for his father and mother and for the rigorous family life he shared with twelve brothers and sisters. He was born of Navajo parents in Towaoc, Colorado, March 23, 1943.
“My father was an extraordinary man,” says Elder Lee. “He couldn’t understand English and was very close to his own culture. He was a sheepherder dedicated to hard work and didn’t believe in oversleeping. ‘Never let the sun beat you up,’ he always told us.
“Father taught us dignity and respect for the opposite sex. He reverenced nature and, while he didn’t assign any personality to God, he told us that the land, mountains, animals, insects, and all growing things were the handiwork of God and that they should be protected except when needed for food. We were close to every living thing.
“When a rattlesnake would come to our hogan, Father would talk to it quietly, then gently pick it up with a stick and carry it about a hundred yards from home where he would lay it down and command it to stay away, explaining that he meant it no harm.”
“Our mother and father used to walk six miles to get water and would carry it home on their shoulders. In wintertime when water would freeze on the mesa, they would chop up the ice and carry it home in a gunny sack where it was melted on the stove for drinking water.”
It was an LDS couple by the name of Bloomfield, who operated a trading post at Mancos Creek, Colorado, that first interested Elder Lee in the gospel. Even though he didn’t worship God the Eternal Father as he was to later understand him, George had prayed in times of stress to a heavenly being as long as he could remember.
The Bloomfields vividly recalled that when Elder Lee was eight years old he had miraculously recovered from a seven-day illness so severe that his heart had finally stopped beating and burial preparations had been made. When he subsequently revived, the first thing he asked for was a soda pop. After that the Bloomfields good-naturedly nicknamed him “The Soda Pop Kid.” Yet they felt in their hearts that the boy’s recovery had been no accident and that he had an important work to do.
George Lee was baptized when he was nine and when he was eleven he was one of the first students on the Indian placement program. He lived with the Glen Harker family in Orem, Utah.
Elder Lee says that during his school years, “I didn’t think of myself as an Indian. I grew up never seeing colors in people. Some of that feeling rubbed off on me from my father who taught me to respect all people.”
This humane view was of particular advantage to Elder Lee while he was a U.S. Office of Education Fellow in 1970–71. He served as an educational consultant for black, Chicano, Oriental, Indian, and Anglo groups.
“I worked with all groups equally well,” Elder Lee explained, “and never became homesick to be with any certain group of people, because all of them had the same basic needs, and I could see ways to help them.”
To emphasize his belief in the commonality of man, Elder Lee once gave an insightful address to a college audience entitled, “Leadership Is Colorblind.”
In December of 1967, Elder Lee was married to a pretty Comanche girl, Katherine Hettich, in the Salt Lake Temple by Elder Spencer W. Kimball. Elder and Sister Lee have two sons, Duane Michal who is six, and five-year-old Chad Thomas, and a ten-month-old daughter, Tricia.
Although still in his early thirties, George Lee’s academic accomplishments and numerous leadership awards are impressive by any measure. He has a Master of Education degree and has just completed his dissertation for a doctorate in educational administration. In 1974 he was president of the College of Ganado in Ganado, Arizona, a two-year college primarily for native Americans. He has been a consultant at national Indian conferences, and curriculum planner for the bilingual and bicultural Rough Rock Demonstration School on the Navajo reservation. He is a Phi Delta Kappa member.
Besides several fellowships he has been awarded, Elder Lee has received the “Spencer W. Kimball Indian Leadership Award,” and an “Outstanding Young Man of America Award.”
However, as important as all these things are, the things that mark George Lee are his sweet spirit and his complete faith in the Lord. He is a humble man and testifies that “every opportunity I have ever had I owe to the Lord. I want to be an instrument in his hands for doing good and for serving others.”
Long ago Elder Lee placed the Church and his family ahead of his Navajo Indianness. His new responsibilities as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and as president of the Arizona-Holbrook Mission will provide him and Sister Lee even greater opportunity to help our brothers and sisters back into the light of the gospel.