Shawn Lee was the kind of guy known for sparking a heated political debate. He was the kind of guy who had no problem letting you know if you were blocking his view of the television.
But more importantly, he was also the kind of guy to break up a domestic dispute on his day off, to plan a family trip to Story Land or make a homesick soldier feel at home.
For Lee’s friends and family, there are thousands of memories that show just why he was so special to them and to the Wilmington community, which will pay its final respects to the Wilmington Police Officer during his funeral on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
Lee died on Saturday after battling leukemia since February.
“He was the kind of guy that knew right from wrong, and did it no matter what,” said longtime friend and neighbor Jerry Hurley, who recalled a time when Lee heard a dispute coming from a nearby house, went to the residence and stayed there until the local police came, even though it was his day off.
Jim Kelly met Lee when they were both serving in the military. Many of the soldiers Kelly had trained with in basic training had been shipped to various locations, and he was starting to feel alone once more.
That’s when he heard it. The thick Boston accent talking into the telephone in the common area caught his ear and reminded him of home. Kelly waited until Lee hung up the phone, then approached him.
“I asked him where he was from and what he was doing there,” recalls Kelly, who ended up in several locations around the country alongside Lee. “The first thing he said was that he was going to be a Wilmington cop. It was what he wanted to do. He worked at it and it took him a long time. He went through a lot to get there, and it was a huge honor to see him reach his goal.”
For all of the emotional memories Lee’s friends have about him, there are also the stories that simply make them laugh.
“How he handled the illness was that his personality didn’t change at all,” said Hurley. “He was a great guy, and he was also known for being a grouch that spoke his mind very loudly. That didn’t change at all. If you were standing in front of the TV when you came to see him in the hospital, he would say, ‘I’m really glad you’re visiting, but get out of the way. You’re blocking the television.’”
Kelly, who now lives in Derry, N.H., also said that what made Lee special was that he never took life too seriously. Still, when the time came for duty in the military or as a police officer, Lee’s personality was all business.
And during his sickness, Lee was all business as well, all while keeping a positive outlook.
“Only Shawn could come to the conclusion that even though he was facing his own mortality, he said, ‘If I live through this, it’ll be the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Kelly. “He was an everyday hero. He did his thing, he loved his country and he loved his town. That alone was inspiring, even before he got sick.”
As a member of the police force, Lee had an old school mentality. He was there to enforce the laws, but he also had a heart.
“If you were arrested by him, you had to have done something wrong not just in Massachusetts’ opinion, but in Shawn’s eyes,” said Hurley. “He was a straight line guy who knew right from wrong.”
Officer Shawn Lee was a family man, a friend, a police officer and a veteran. But to those who knew him, he was just like everyone else. And that’s what made him special.
“He never got a medal of honor, and he was never going to be a millionaire,” said Jim Kelly. “He was an everyday guy that lived is life in a very inspirational way, just because he was him.”