By Royal Shariyf
The first thing striking about Lee Lord is he does not resemble the appearance of a man almost seventy-three years old. Not merely by how youthful he looks. But his avid passion and talent for digital media technology, his seeming fluidity to fresh ideas and quaking change all portray perhaps a younger person.
“Everything has a name, but I don’t think you can put a name on everything, “he explains in Zen-like fashion. “And I can’t put a name on myself.” He would clearly prefer certain things: less dogma and labeling, and much more substance, content and inclusiveness in this world.
Born in Brooklyn, at Kings County Hospital, on Dec 28, 1932, Lee Lord was christened “Eustace Leonidas” (Greek for “lion like” and “lionhearted”) by his father, the late F. Levi Lord. I began using my shortened middle name just for convenience of other people.”
His father, a former school teacher in his native Barbados, once served as a stenographer for Marcus Garvey and in other capacities within the UNIA leadership. His activities as a businessman and in civic affairs for many years were well known also because he co-founded a key financial institution known as Paragon Credit Union. He was a type bookkeeper for the New York City Comptroller, a remarkable achievement for a Black man of his era.
Lee Lord was the forth of five children, two of whom have passed. There was Barbara, Phyllis, and Elsie; and his younger brother, Dr. Clyde Lord, a retired physician, is now living in Atlanta.
As a teen, in 1947, Lord vividly recalls when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. “It so impacted on my life. I and others formed a baseball team called the Brooklyn Cobras. We became heroes of the community. We were the first Black group to be able to play at the (Prospect Park) Parade Grounds in Brooklyn. In 1949 we won the first championship out there.” Tommy Davis, a fellow Cobra, became a Brooklyn Dodger himself.
When the Parade Grounds were rededicated in 2004, Mr. Lord on behalf of the Cobras was voted in the Brooklyn Hall of Fame and was presented a plaque by Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz. “We didn’t think so much of it then,” he reflects.
Mr. Lord considered himself very fortunate growing up. On Sundays, in the family parlor he enjoyed jazz and symphonic music, the luxury of oil painting and creative writing, but had no defined aspirations
“The West Indian culture was very firm in having their children learn a trade,” Lord explains. “Back in the West Indies my father learned the shoemaker’s trade, but he was a school teacher. But when he came here, he could not get a job as a schoolteacher. He could not even take the test (because of racism). Instead, he had to work at his trade until he took a test and landed that job with the city — which is very similar to my own experience.”
As a young child, Lee Lord sometimes sold newspapers and carried packages at the local Bohack supermarket and A&P. But he distinctly recalls the day he told his father of his intention to shine shoes, a common activity on street-corners then. “I was building my shoebox. In those days, kids were building fancy shoeboxes to shine shoes. He looked at me and said, ‘You can’t shine shoes. I will never let my boy kneel and shine shoes of any white man.’ He was steadfast in that because he envisioned that as one of the less honorable things we can do.”
Lord’s father recounted the story of their family doctor, Dr. Batson, a fellow Caribbean, who served his internship shining shoes at Penn Station because he couldn’t get a job in a hospital.
“My father took me to his friend’s print shop on Fulton Street and told him he wanted me to be taught the printing trade. I remember standing there and telling my father, no, I did not want to be a printer. My father said, ‘I don’t care what you want to be. But if you never get to be what you want to be, you will not be a leech on society.’ This gentleman who was a master printer in Barbados ran a newspaper there and yet came to this country and could not get a job because of his color. When he went to apply they tried to put a broom in his hand.”
It was November, 1943. Lee Lord was 11 years old. On that same day, Lord became an apprentice. “I went Monday through Friday from 4 – 7 pm and on Saturday from 9-4. I learned how to set type, do mock ups, feed the press- everything. I will never forget, the first week I made seven dollars and ran home and gave my mother five. I was now contributing to the household. You don’t know how good that made me feel. ”
Lord remained with the printer until he was called to military service in 1952, yet the dividends of his forced apprenticeship would continue throughout his life. He received a “by-pass specialist” waiver that allowed him direct assignment to the printing division at Scotts Air Force base in Illinois. Later, he spent two memorable years in Tokyo in the Pacific Stars and Stripes unit where he enjoyed “plush accommodations.” “We had the best food and separate rooms. No, it was not bad all!”
“Everybody becomes who they are supposed to be,” Lord advises. He would not change a single thing about his life, especially being husband to Doeltha, his wife of 47 years. (“I noticed her, and so did everybody else!”) He would still fully support his daughter’s decision, too. In 1991, she quit her cushy job with an investment bank to become a standup comic. “It was her destiny,” he observes with a smile. (Today, Leighann Lord is a successful comedian.) Lord also has two sons: Wayne and Bryan, and several grandchildren.
After his discharge, Lord was denied entry into the printers union. However, a major city agency held an open exam for a printer. Lord zipped through the written and practical in half the allotted time and ranked number one. That feat granted him the job. Eight years later, he was elevated to supervisor of the entire printing operation of the NYC Fire Department where he retired. He is a member of the Honorary Association of Fire Chiefs.
“I am standing on so many strong shoulders. Our parents and grandparents had to scratch heads, shuffle and do whatever they had to do to get through a deeply racist society. My father said, ‘Listen to everybody. No man is beneath you and no man is above you.’
I just hope I have made a positive difference.