By Dan Moffett
BRINY BREEZES — John “Jack” Lee arrived in Briny Breezes back in 1958 as an 8-year-old from Central Illinois and instantly forged what would be an enduring relationship with the mobile home park on the ocean.
Mr. Lee would visit Briny dozens of times over the three decades that followed, while he was establishing a successful career as a mental health professional in Illinois.
He would leave Briny but Briny never left him — he told friends the town “gets in your blood” and stays there. In 1995, he bought his parents’ mobile home and became a permanent resident of the town, working as a case management supervisor for the 45th Street Mental Health Center in West Palm Beach.
In 2001, Briny Breezes’ Town Council appointed him mayor and he served for six years. Last March, the council, faced with a difficult agenda of administrative change, appointed Mr. Lee to the position again.
“I’m good at building relationships,” Mayor Lee told council members. He promised to help them tighten the budget and protect what he called “Briny values.”
“He asked a lot of questions about how the town was being run,” says Alderman Jim McCormick. “He moved the ball.”
Mr. Lee’s second term as mayor appeared to be just taking off when he surprised the council with the announcement he was resigning his seat in October, citing personal reasons. On Nov. 2, he died unexpectedly in the Boynton Beach office where he had continued work as a practicing psychotherapist. Mr. Lee was 68. Mr. Lee is survived by his wife, Ann, in Briny Breezes and several adult children and stepchildren living in the Midwest.
During his first term in office, Mayor Lee helped the town navigate through the grandiose overtures of developers who talked of a $510 million deal to buy Briny Breezes and make its residents instant millionaires. He said it was unthinkable “to sell your hometown.” Mr. Lee was fond of telling friends that his greatest achievement as mayor was something more mundane than big real estate deals.
“When we appointed him mayor,” says Council President Sue Thaler, “he told us the thing he was proudest of was getting rid of dog beach.”
In 2004, thanks to Mayor Lee’s lobbying and the objections of Briny’s residents, the county scrapped a plan to allow dogs on a narrow strip of beach south of the town.
“Jack was a lifelong resident of Briny,” Thaler said, “and his death is shocking to all of us.”
Gulf Stream Town Clerk Rita Taylor was a Briny alderwoman during Mr. Lee’s first term as mayor.
“When I served on council with Jack a number of years ago, I found him very dedicated to preserving the town and making sure it fulfilled its responsibilities as town to the residents,” Taylor said.
Edith Behm, a member of one of the town’s charter families, knew Mr. Lee since the 1960s, when they spent their teen years in Briny. She expressed the thoughts of many longtime residents about Mr. Lee’s death: “The community of Briny Breezes will not be the same without him.”
A memorial service was held Nov. 19 at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Boynton Beach.