SACRAMENTO–Kathryn C. Lee, co-publisher of the Sacramento Observer newspaper, passed away peacefully at her home on Monday, March 25. She was 77.
Mrs. Lee was a contestant in the Miss Amigos pageant in Sacramento in 1954, but those who knew her said her true beauty lay in her ability to help provide opportunities for other African Americans in the region.
A native of New Orleans, La., Mrs. Lee was born on Nov. 19, 1935. Her family arrived in Sacramento when she was 8 years old and settled in the Oak Park area. After high school, she attended San Francisco State College and later married local real estate broker William H. Lee in 1961. In 1962, the couple and several other area leaders pooled their finances and bought a local religious paper, The Sacramento Outlook, but later changed the name to The Sacramento Observer.
Mrs. Lee was a leader, especially for other local African American women.
In 1956, she was the first African American woman to work at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s office.
Despite witnessing blatant acts of racism and discrimination, she remained undaunted and helped open doors for many other African American women pursuing careers in law enforcement.
After leaving the sheriff’s department, Mrs. Lee worked as a pioneering legislative aide in the California State Capitol for 14 years. African American faces weren’t commonplace at the Capitol at that time, but Mrs. Lee advocated for an increase in job opportunities for minorities, particularly as legislative staff members.
Lee was the first African American to serve on the Sacramento County Grand Jury in 1973. She later went to work at the Sacramento Observer full-time as assistant publisher. While her husband focused on the news end of the business, she focused on its finances.
Kathyrn and Bill Lee became leaders in the community, and as their newspaper was rewarded for its journalistic excellence, she received accolades herself. She was named the 1970 Woman of the Year by the Women’s Civic Improvement Club; the Greyhound Corporation’s Woman of the Year in 1991, the National Council of Negro of Women, Sacramento Valley Section’s “Most Outstanding Women” award in 1993; 1999 recipient of the Second Annual Madame CJ Walker Entrepreneurial Award; the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Sacramento Chapter’s 2002 Pioneer Award; and the Links Inc.’s 2002 Partnership Service Award.
Mrs. Lee said it was her desire to rise above challenges and live a life full of love, integrity and purpose.
She was preceded in death by eldest son Roderick Joseph Lee and brother Phillip Charles. She is survived by her husband William H. Lee; sons William H. Lee Jr. and Lawrence Lee; daughters-in-law Monet Lee and Maria Lee; siblings Raymond Charles, Iris Sims and Donald Charles; five granddaughters and a host of nieces and nephews.
Services for Kathryn Lee were held Monday at 11 a.m. at Center of Praise Ministries.
Genoa Barrow | Special to the Sacramento Observer