Recently I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral of a dear friend. Her name was Lee Better and she worked at Hiller’s for a single lustrum, although I’d known her for five. Lee was known within the company as our demo lady but I knew her as much more. I had been her friend, lawyer and confidant since 1987.
Lee came to Hiller’s in her 75th year in need of a job and still raw from the shuttering of her resale shop New to You. She needed work and with the resoluteness that typified her she was willing to do damn near anything. I put her in charge of Hiller’s demo program and she took to it like a duck to water. Soon, customers flocked to see her and listen to her as she held court. One of her biggest fans was Sonny Eliot the widely acclaimed local newscaster and weatherman, who spent hours exchanging stories and jokes with her. Lee had a smile a mile wide and the precocious humor of Dame Edna. Once a customer asked her if a Sara Lee product was kosher and without a blink Lee responded with a wink and said; “ Sara’s a Jewish name so it must be.” She knew it wasn’t; so did the customer but both had a good laugh.
Life was not easy for Lee. She married Sam when she was in her late thirties and while they were fortunate to have two daughters, Gayle and Liz, Sam died unexpectedly and young. Lee had worked part-time during the marriage but suddenly she became the sole support of the family. Without a complaint, Lee rose to the task. She opened a resale shop called New To You and with the help of her many girlfriends, beautiful well-labeled ladies clothes filled the shelves and her store became a gathering place for sharp women who knew a bargain. And so it went for 10 years or more while Lee watched over her girls and her elderly mother with a perpetual smile on her face and never a single complaint at the hand life had dealt her.
Finally the store ran out of steam and Lee came to me needing a job. I was honored to oblige. After all… I’d been her lawyer during the good times so how could I walk away during the lean? Without a complaint Lee started work as Hiller’s Food Demonstration Specialist. At a time of life when most of us are contemplating our navels on a couch, she was on time and bright eyed every day and she charmed the pants off everyone, me included. Because no matter how tough things were or how much pain she felt Lee’s mien never varied.
Sadly one late afternoon 7 years ago for reasons unknown, while driving home after work, Lee drifted across the road and into a head-on collision with another vehicle. She was taken to the hospital by ambulance and given a grave prognosis. “”She won’t survive the night” said the trauma surgeon. Eight months later she left the hospital, bent, broken and bruised but with her spirit intact and until June 13th 2013 Lee endured. We all knew she was on borrowed time. She didn’t give a damn… she laughed and continued to charm the pants off everyone she met.
Those of us who knew Lee were fortunate to have a woman of such strength and uncommon virtue in our life.
At her funeral I said, “ if ever there was a soul who deserved to be swept to heaven on the wings of angels it was Lee”. Every head in the audience nodded in agreement.
I will eternally miss Lee’s smile, wit and charm.