Robert Lexwood Lee Sr., 72, pro boxer and machinist

April 29, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Robert Lexwood Lee Sr., a welterweight fighter of the 1940s and early 1950s who was known as the "Baltimore Buzzsaw," died Saturday of a heart attack at the home of his daughter in Northeast Baltimore. He was 72 and lived in Towson.

Mr. Lee, who never fought as an amateur, began boxing in 1945 with his first professional bout against Kid Grant in Baltimore.

In a career that spanned 10 years, he participated in 63 fights that took him to Philadelphia's Toppi Stadium, New York's Madison Square Garden, Chicago, Florida, the West Coast and Cuba. Locally, he boxed at the old Coliseum on North Monroe Street.

"He was one of the best that ever came out of Baltimore," said Ray H. Leonard, chairman of the board of governors of the Veterans Boxers Association International Ring 101 and boxing historian. "If he had had the right manager, he would've been a world champion."

Mr. Lee was described by boxing writers of the day as being "a punching bundle of energy," "aggressive and frisky," "the spunky Baltimore welterweight," "fast and aggressive and throws a lot of leather."

He fought some of the era's most formidable and greatest fighters, including Sugar Ray Robinson, Kid Gavilan ("the fighting machine from Cuba"), Johnny Bratton, Freddie Dawson and Johnny Saxton.

"Bobby was small, around 5 foot 7 inches, and he fought everybody," Mr. Leonard said yesterday. "Very few ever fought the caliber of fighter that he did, and he never backed down."

When Mr. Lee was inducted into the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992, Mr. Leonard wrote in the organization's journal, "He always goes in, there is your answer, he keeps inside those killing hooks that knock so many out. Going in, he smothers those looping rights before they have reached the peak of their timed power. His style was go in, fight, take the lead, and you are never in half the danger you are when you retreat or evade."

His longtime East Baltimore friend, Billy Robinson, 74, a welterweight who fought him in 1946 and 1947, said yesterday, "If you got by him, you got by a good man. He was a real good boxer. I was simply a fighter."

When Mr. Lee was nominated for the Hall of Fame, he said looking back over his years in the ring, "I was always a clean fighter. I loved the game. The game taught me how to be fair to all men."

After retiring in 1954, Mr. Lee worked as a machinist for Western Electric and Allied Bendix from 1969 until retiring in 1989.

"He was a very humble man, and he knew he had faded from the scene, but if someone asked about his boxing days, he'd bubble all over," said his son Richard E. Lee, a Baltimore attorney who lives in Pikesville. "Otherwise, he'd never bring it up."

Robert Lee never taught his two sons the sport.

"He didn't want us to do that," Richard Lee said. "He didn't want us to pursue what he had pursued. He knew there was a better way."

He enjoyed watching his children play sports and often was a surrogate father to fatherless neighborhood children.

"He'd load up the car, and off to a game we'd go," Richard Lee said. "He'd have so many kids crammed in the car it wasn't funny."

A deeply religious man, Mr. Lee attended Mount Olive Baptist Church in Towson, where he was a trustee, deacon, cemetery administrator and president of the deacons ministry.

Born in Richmond, Va., he moved to Towson in 1938 and graduated from the old Carver High School there. He was married in 1950 to Bernice Ruth Mack, who died in 1988.

Services will be held at 9: 30 a.m. today at Mount Olive Baptist Church, 816 York Road.

Mr. Lee also is survived by another son, Robert L. Lee Jr. of Pikesville; a daughter, Aurelia Pope of Baltimore; a brother, Walter Lee of Baltimore; four grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and special friend, Gertrude Davis of Baltimore.

Pub Date: 4/29/99

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