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Tuesday, Jun. 25, 2019
Stories of sports and other subjects with Hall of Famer Dan Lee
by Randy Pascal

The stories that Dan Lee can tell are many. They are many, and fascinating, and varied.

Sit down over coffee with the retired OPP sergeant, have him talk through various facets of his life, and you will be entertained. Just be sure to give yourself at least a few hours, or more, for this lively discussion.

Focusing on just a few key areas of Lee's biography, those that would lead, eventually, to his being named to the Class of 2019 that will enter the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame, on June 12th, will cause you to meander in multiple directions.

Even the early decades for the still very active 74 year old are filled with interesting banter, from a childhood that would involve following his father (also a member of the OPP) through stops in Parry Sound and Barrie and Bradford and Stayner, through to his chance meeting with his wife of 48 years (Susie), both showing early signs of their zest for life and love of travel by committing to help out, in Japan, with Expo '70.

Dan had been selected to assist with security and crowd control at the Ontario pavilion, while Susie worked her way up from a hostess at her native New Zealand pavilion, named, in due time, as assistant to the commissioner of the venue.

A year later, they transferred to Sudbury, establishing roots that would grow into a family of four, courtesy of both a daughter (Cathy) and a son (Tim). For a while, Lee would remain immersed with his career, one for which he still holds an incredible appreciation. “I had 31 years with the OPP, and I loved every one of those years,” he said. “I loved the job, I loved going to work.”

And in what has become a common refrain throughout the balance of his years in Sudbury, Lee would also give willingly of his time, well beyond the call of duty. It was this devotion to volunteerism that would set the wheels in motion, from a sports perspective, for the man who was a good, but certainly not great athlete, growing up.

“I was arranging, at the time (mid to late eighties), the policeman's ball, and the money would go to our association,” he said. “We used it to send teams to tournaments.” Lee, for his part, was moved to action. “I went to the OPP Association and told them I would arrange the ball, sell the tickets, do everything to make it happen, but I wanted to use the money for minor sports. It would be good publicity for us.”

To his surprise, the buy-in from his fellow workmates was swift and immediate. Sudbury OPP Strike Force was created, a moniker selected based on a straw poll that Lee conducted of kids, in his own neighbourhood, as to the team name they preferred the best.

As his contacts expanded, so to did the matching of the proper people with the vision that Lee fostered of amateur sports. "Bill (McKetsy) offered to coach, but he had never coached hockey," Lee recalled. "I was somewhat hesitant."

"Turns out he was one of the best coaches I ever had. He did a fantastic job. He was fairer than I was. He gave the kids so much confidence in themselves, and they learned something." His hockey team might have been off and running, but a true explosion of the new project was about to be launched.

It involved a little bit of being in the right place at the right time, circumstances that would lead Lee to a second source of funding, and one which created a windfall, both for his group, but even moreso the hundreds of young athletes who would benefit from his efforts.

“Somebody told me about the Nevada tickets, and in those days, that was a license to print money,” he said. “Strike Force grew from one team in 1987-88 to 34 teams, by the nineties. We had the best uniforms that you could possibly buy. We wanted to give kids a reason to have pride in themselves.”

Though the funding would eventually dry up, Lee was only just beginning his journey in sport. Attending a meeting, in Barrie, with fellow police personnel to discuss the Special Olympics Torch Run, the well-respected administrator and organizer would find another outlet for his passion. “That one meeting lasted twelve or thirteen years,” he laughed.

Returning to northern Ontario, Lee and others would throw themselves into hosting a set of Special Olympics Summer Games. “It was the first time that a police service had ever served as event organizers for these Games. We were the first Games ever not to use all of the money they had allocated to us.”

A friendship with track and field mainstay John Roberts would see the pair proceed with the natural evolution, leading the hosting of a national set of Games in 1998. “It was the most successful Games that they ever had,” said Lee. “We gave money back to the Special Olympics locally, provincially and nationally.”

Over the course of the past two decades, Lee has slowly down, only slightly, co-chairing the Ontario Summer Games, with Roberts, in 2010, and remaining quite involved with SportLink – Greater Sudbury Sport Council for the better part of a 15 year stretch.

Yet through it all, there is still a need to thank others for the success of some of his undertakings. “Number one, we have a very good base of volunteers in this city,” said Lee. “They're knowledgeable. A lot of the people that we had on board had at least some experience in running these types of events. And we had a very good board and bounced a lot of things off each other.”

Easily at an age where it is far more common to enjoy a much slower pace, Lee eschews the notion, drawing out of his experiences at least as much as he puts in. "Number one, you meet a heck of a lot of really nice people," he said.

"I like the sense of accomplishment, the pride we would feel when things go well. And the fact is, people appreciate what you're doing." Come mid-June, that appreciation will translate into a spot alongside the who's who of Sudbury sports.

"I'm very proud and humbled," said Lee. "Think of all the people in the Hall of Fame. I'm just an ordinary guy, and I'm in there with all of these really special people."

Though he was born in Parry Sound, Lee never misses an opportunity to beam with pride about the place he has long called home. “Because of the idea that so many people have of Sudbury, even if we know it's much different than what they think, I will go out of my way to explain Sudbury to visitors,” stated the septuagenarian, who is nothing if not outgoing.

“I was a driver for the Esso Cup (last month), and when I drove somebody from out of town, they got indoctrinated about Sudbury.” Of course, given his love of travel, it was only natural that Lee would serve as a volunteer driver. He and Susie have now enjoyed more than 20 cruises together, over the years, covering all corners of the Caribbean, as well as the entire Mediterranean, and more recently, many of the Asian and Far East outposts.

That, however, is a story for another day.

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