Eulogy - Delivered April 27, 2017
by son Kirkwood A. LeCompte
at First Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, VA
It was a few days before Christmas 1968 and Dad burst into the house exclaiming, “Hurry, hurry, you’ll miss him!” We couldn’t understand who or what he was talking about, but we obligingly raced outside where we saw a huge box sitting in the middle of the lawn. Dad pointed up into the sky toward the sun, “There, there, do you see him?” We agreed we saw something but we weren’t sure what it was. “That was Santa Claus! I can’t believe you missed him, but look, here are the sleigh tracks.” And sure enough in the grass leading up to the big box, there were drag marks indicating recent sleigh activity. With amazement in his eyes, Dad told us “He had all eight reindeer with him too!” And sure enough, there were half-chewed carrots on the ground as evidence of recent deer activity. Santa had indeed come. “He wanted to be sure you’d have it on the big day,“ Dad insisted. Dad explained that Santa brought the box, which contained a new bumper pool table, because it was simply too big to deliver on Christmas Day. I was only 5 years old at the time, but I was now a firm believer in Santa for another year.
Of course, Dad’s real gift to us that year and every year was his ability to elevate so many occasions like this into magical moments we would never forget. And of course, God’s gift to Dad was granting him the skill and passion to spread the love so charmingly and convincingly, not just to family and friends, but his coworkers and customers. Lee enchanted all of us. He loved life so much and loved all of us. I’m certain all of you remember your own magical moments with Lee.
As kids growing up, many of those moments for us happened during our week-long sailing trips and races up and down the Chesapeake. One destination was Tides Inn. Dad would tie-up at their private dock like he owned the place (despite the lack of an invitation), and we’d disembark for an afternoon of croquet on their immaculate lawns, a game of Marco Polo in their saltwater pool, and unlimited refills of Shirley Temple drinks at the bar. We’d eventually push off, for more adventures up the Piankatank River, where we’d drop anchor and grill freshly caught fish off the stern, and eventually settle down in sleeping bags on deck and count the endless stars of the Milky Way. And of course all along the way, he taught us how to read the tides, properly adjust the sails, navigate our course, and properly identify and operate all manner of nautical gear from boom vangs to snatch blocks. It was absolute heaven on Earth.
They say the human body is composed of about 65% water, but with Lee it was more like 99.9% pure seawater. It probably started in August 1933, when the eye of a category 4 hurricane passed directly over Virginia Beach, and the ocean swamped the lobby of the Spotswood Arms Hotel. Lee and his family survived, but not before rowboats had been dispatched to find infant formula for baby Lee. I suspect what they found was tainted with seawater, because Dad had a strong taste for it ever since.
Lee fondly remembered his many summer vacations at the beach. Body surfing out in front of the Breakers Hotel during the day and dancing in the hotel lobby at night. The owners, Vivvy and Alice Hodgson, always made sure there was extra desserts and taffy for the kids. But the real challenge was snagging the brass ring at the casino to earn a free ride on the carousel. During college years, it was blankets on the beach by the Surf Club, and meet and greets at Kitchen’s Kitchin for suds.
Those of you who knew him longer than I did, certainly recall what an outstanding athlete he was. Dick Edmonds told me his luckiest day in high school was getting a Doctor’s waiver on the first day of football practice when every new candidate had to gear up and challenge one-on-one the toughest linebacker in the Prep League, namely Lee LeCompte. Dick may have escaped but few others did, as Captain Lee led his teams to league titles at both St. Christopher’s and Hampden Sydney.
After college the ocean beckoned him back. Turns out it was in his DNA. After all, he was a direct descendant, as he so often told us, of Antoine LeCompte who sailed over in 1650 and whose name was given to LeCompte Bay outside Cambridge, MD. He was also a very great grandson of several naval and merchant captains out of Baltimore, including Commodore and Privateer James Chaytor of the War of 1812. Little surprise then that Lee became an officer in the coast guard, and years later, a well respected and feared yachtsman on the Chesapeake and Atlantic racing circuit. And not just on sunny days, but as Dick Wilson will tell you, Lee held firm even when confronting Northeasters and the waves were crashing into the galley.
So it came as no surprise to me that Dad insisted on meeting my future wife for the first time on a sailboat trip from Baltimore to Annapolis. Dad had always insisted that I marry rich, but failing that, he said, “be sure she is damn good in the galley.” That may sound sexist, but I understood what he really meant – make sure we can handle everything life might throw at us, even when Northeasters are swamping the galley. It was good advice.
Having grown up during the depression, Lee always told us, while we were shopping, how he never paid more than $5 for a pair of shoes, ever. Right up to the end Lee was known to carefully dry out paper towels for reuse, air out his socks rather than run up the electric bill by using the dryer, and save every plastic cup he ever received. But this too was good advice. He taught us to balance the excesses with frugality.
He also taught us the value of unconditional love, and it was named Sam. Dad always had a dog named Sam, usually a golden retriever, but in later years, they were poodles. Every Sam was a character, but then so was Dad. Once, sometime after Sam #2 had passed away, Dad was heading home after a business call and pulled into a gas station. He immediately noticed an attractive blonde, as he was apt to do, in the backseat of the car next to him. He inquired of yet another blonde who was pumping gas about the status of her friend and learned they were headed to the dog pound. Turns out the blonde in the backseat was a young golden retriever that the owner could no longer afford to keep. When Dad asked about the name, the owner replied, “Sam.” Needless to say, Sam #3 was brought to a new home in Dad’s backseat that day.
Dad was always willing to help those who needed it. Just a few years ago, the gentleman who landscaped our home back in the 60’s and 70’s came to visit, and insisted on doing some yard work for several weeks for free. Why? Because he was so thankful for a gift/loan that Lee had given him when he was just starting out. Dad had never mentioned it, but it clearly made a huge impact on this man. I continue to learn about such anonymous and generous acts by Dad.
As many of you know, we have a large and complicated family, with siblings, half-siblings, step-siblings, and multiple marriages. And yet we are all here today because of Dad. Dad is the primary glue that binds us all together. He was not only the life of the party, but he was the lifeblood of our family. I first realized this at a Thanksgiving dinner some 20 years ago at Robbie & Lee’s home. It was quite the gathering. There were former wives and husbands, each with their latest wives and husbands and all the associated offspring. And it was grand. We all enjoyed the day, with great laughter, caring, and thanksgiving. And at the center of it all was Lee. He was the anchor that secured us, the provider that saw all the kids through college, and the financial rock who made sure we could weather the storms. But more importantly he was the one that taught us to love life, to include everyone in on the fun, and to stand firm, like the linebacker he was, to whatever life may throw our way.