Joseph Augustus Lee, 78 cab driver gave free rides

November 10, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

It was Joseph Augustus Lee's manner to give, and he did it whenever possible, friends and relatives said. Mr. Lee drove a cab for nearly 30 years and provided almost as many free rides as paid ones; he sold Christmas trees for 20 years and gave away countless Scotch pines; and he managed a West Baltimore convenience store where he had a sizable list of debtors.

Mr. Lee, 78, who died Thursdayof a heart attack at his Randallstown home, was always willing to help others and share what he had -- even if it meant he took a loss.

"He was a soft touch who just enjoyed being around people and helping people," said his daughter, Deborah Irene Davis of Randallstown.

Mr. Lee drove a cab, first for the old Fleetway Cab Co. and later for Checker Cab Co. A big, gregarious man who cracked jokes as easily as he discussed history, he enjoyed picking up and getting to know his riders.

But he gained a measure of fame in West Baltimore near Coppin State College, where he lived most of his life, as the cabbie who voluntarily took area kids to and from school, and chauffeured elderly or disabled residents to stores or medical appointments.

"He enjoyed meeting different types of people and enjoyed working with the children," said another daughter, Rosalind Veronica Lee of Baltimore. "I remember sometimes when he'd take a whole cab-load of kids to [William H.] Lemmel Middle School."

One of his regular passengers was a mentally disabled boy he took to and from school daily. Once, when he took the boy home after school, the child's parents weren't home and Mr. Lee ferried the child in the cab as he picked up fares.

When he took the boy home, a neighbor scolded Mr. Lee for not leaving the child with the neighbor. The boy's father intervened, saying he'd rather his son be with Mr. Lee than with any of the neighbors, Rosalind Lee recalled the man saying.

A Baltimore native, Mr. Lee graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in 1938 and served in the Army from 1942 to 1944 during World War II.

Upon his discharge, he managed The American Store, a five-and-dime near Fremont and Pennsylvania avenues, until the mid-1950s. The store sold nearly everything, and Mr. Lee enjoyed the work.

"Everybody knew him there because he was always there and would help any way he could if you didn't have enough money to buy what you needed," said Samuel Spellman, a longtime friend.

He was also a seasonal Christmas tree salesman, for which he and several other men sold a variety of Scotch pines and firs at the corner of Baker and Fulton streets for 20 years.

Rosalind Lee said he especially liked helping nearby low-income families by giving them trees. "That was probably the best part to him," she said.

Mr. Lee was a lifelong member of St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church, where he attended school as a child and was an altar boy. Services are scheduled for 9: 30 a.m. Thursday at the church.

He is survived by his wife, the former Agnes Elizabeth Cook, whom he married in 1945; three sons, Joseph Gregory Lee and James Anthony Lee, both of Baltimore, and Marvin Francis Lee of Randallstown; a third daughter, Sandra Elizabeth Henson of Baltimore; 15 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 11/10/98

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