Before he was a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office detention officer, Gene “Jim” Lee led a career as an electrical engineer.
He would often tinker with radios at his dining room table and even spent time taking cars apart, recalled his nephew, William Gutierrez, during a Celebration of Life Friday afternoon at Comerica Theatre in honor of Lee.
“One winter, the family visited Chicago (and) Jim went missing for about three to four hours, we couldn’t find him,” said the retired U.S. Air Force Master sergeant. “He was out in the parking lot, doing donuts in the snow, trying to feel and see how the car would handle in the snow.”
Lee died on Oct. 30 after suffering a severe head injury from an attack by an inmate at the Maricopa County Lower Buckeye Jail the previous day.
The 64-year-old Lee’s nephew and close friends and colleagues described Lee Friday as a man of integrity who was selfless and loved spicy foods.
The former engineer also found joy in bargain shopping, especially at Goodwill, where he memorized what products were on the shelves and when they would be restocked.
“He loved a good bargain and we’re not sure who introduced him to Goodwill but what an engineer’s dream,” said Gutierrez, who was selected by Lee’s family to speak on their behalf. Lee’s wife, Linda, daughter, Robin, and son, Justin, sat in the front row of the theater but did not speak during the ceremony, which drew a large gathering of law enforcement and others in attendance who showed support.
“One thing that Jim taught us is that there’s a big world out there to explore and if we want to try something go ahead (because) you may find something that provides a lifetime of learning and enjoyment,” said Gutierrez. “For those of you who worked closely with my uncle, I thank you for giving him the happiness he was looking for.”
Kevin Parmenter, Lee’s friend of more than 20 years and former colleague at Motorola and Freescale Semiconductor, Lee wanted to become a detention officer after the pair began volunteering with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
“He lived more lives in one lifetime than most people would live in five lifetimes, he just took it all in,” said Parmenter, adding he preferred his friends and family called him Jim instead of his actual first name, Eugene or Gene.
Before joining MCSO as a detention officer, Lee worked at Auto Zone and the Transportation Security Administration as an agent, he said.
Ultimately, Lee graduated from the police academy in 2014. He went on to work at MCSO’s Towers and Durango jails before being assigned to the Lower Buckeye Jail a little more than a year ago, said MCSO Chief Barry Roska on Friday. He later joined the Arizona Rangers, which officially swore him in on Wednesday.
MCSO Sheriff Paul Penzone and three other officers also spoke during the ceremony, which included a pre-recorded video of a 21-gun salute, a U.S. flag folding presentation and a last call radio transmission in Lee’s honor.
“Last week, Oct. 30th, when I got the call, time stopped for me, I took a deep breath, I sighed and I cried ’cause I loved Jim…he was a dear friend,” said Officer Robert Brown. “It is our duty and our honor to keep Jim’s memory alive for his family and his legacy.”
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