Longtime Mount Pleasant educator and community leader Tom Lee died Monday. He was 72.
Lee served as principal of James B. Edwards Elementary School for more than 25 years, where he earned a strong rapport with Mount Pleasant families and educators.
"He was just kind of an icon in the Mount Pleasant community," said Kate Darby, vice chairwoman of the Charleston County School Board. "Everybody wanted to send their children to school there because he was such a greater leader and a great principal."
Lee was born July 3, 1947, in Charleston. He was part of the first graduating class of Baptist College, now known as Charleston Southern University, and received a master's degree from The Citadel.
"He was very caring," Darby said. "He could interact with a kindergartner as well as he could interact with a teacher, the superintendent or a parent."
Jane Davis worked closely with Lee while she was the principal at Mount Pleasant Academy.
"We had a tight group of Mount Pleasant principals," she said. "We were a close group that worked together and helped each other. He was our mentor, and he supported us."
Lee was the first principal of James B. Edwards when it opened its doors in the fall of 1981, Davis said.
"He took it from being a new school, and he had to make a community and a team for it," Davis said. "And he did. Those teachers who were there just absolutely loved him, as did the parents and the kids."
Lee also established a close relationship with former Gov. Jim Edwards, the school's namesake, and his wife, Davis said.
Lee was an avid duck hunter and taxidermist, said Terri Nichols, Charleston County School District's associate superintendent of leadership development.
She and Lee were colleagues when they both were principals at Mount Pleasant elementary schools.
"I considered him a valuable mentor and friend. He was a wealth of knowledge and was always willing to help out and offer advice," Nichols said.
One of the things people admired about Lee, Nichols said, was his love for students.
"If you walked through the school, all the kids wanted to high-five Mr. Lee or show him something or talk to him," Nichols said.
"I'm sure that the children who went through James B. Edwards and the parents and the teachers are better because they were able to be with him for those years," Davis said.
Lee was instrumental in establishing a partnership between the school district and Windwood Farms, a group home for boys in Awendaw, said Debbie Hanna, the farm's director of community based services.
"That partnership has allowed hundreds of boys over the years to improve their education significantly, and the social, emotional, behavioral aspects of their lives so they could then return to their regular schools," Hanna said. "He was a wonderful man, and everyone had a wonderful time with him. Our hearts are heavy."
Lee's memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in J. Henry Stuhr Mount Pleasant Chapel, 1494 Mathis Ferry Road.