There are stars whose radiance
Is visible on earth though they have long been extinct
There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world
Even though they are no longer among the living
These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark
They light the way for humankind.
. . . . Hannah Senesh
Tony Lee, 72, passed away 11/12/20 at his home in Seattle, WA, due to complications of ALS. Tony was born February 12, 1948, in Swatow, China. He was the ninth of ten children born to Chang Pei Yu Lee (mother) and Wai Lee (father). The family fled to Hong Kong in 1949 during the Communist takeover of China. His family scraped together enough money to emigrate to Sao Paolo, Brazil, in 1953-54. Tony and his family learned to speak Portuguese as the children attended public school and played with the children of their neighborhood in the streets of Sao Paolo. At that time, the US imposed quotas on Chinese immigrants so they were unable to emigrate directly to the United States. Tony came to Seattle in 1959 with his brother Joe and sister Cecilia. They lived with their big sister Anna and brother-in-law Mike Chen, who was an engineer at Boeing. Tony had studied English for only one year when he entered Hamilton Middle School in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood. He loved to play basketball and tennis with his friends at Hamilton and Lincoln High School, friends he has to this day. Tony graduated Lincoln High in 1965 and was awarded a full scholarship to Harvard. He moved to the Harvard dorms in Boston and started freshman year as a math major but later changed to political science. At Harvard Tony met three of his dearest and life long friends Larry, Hsiung and Chris. The four roomed together in Lowell House and for many, many years thereafter, they shared stories of their time at Harvard.
After graduation from Harvard in 1969, Tony returned home to Seattle and was accepted to the University of Washington School of Law. He had clerked for a legislative committee in Olympia and it is there he got his first taste of policy and advocacy. Upon graduation from law school, Tony went to work for Evergreen Legal Services representing people in their cases for state benefits against DSHS. Tony was asked by the director of ELS to lobby in Olympia on behalf of the clients he and other attorneys in his office were representing. Tony accepted this position and hit his stride.
It wasn’t long before Tony became a beloved and trusted champion and advocate of low-income people in the state legislature. He went on to work 40+ years as an advocate on policies and legislation related to social justice for all Washingtonians, particularly low-income residents on Medicaid, TANF and ABD/HEN, Asian Pacific Islanders, immigrants, prisoners and previously incarcerated people, farmworkers, K-12 education equity, jobs initiatives, housing and many, many other issues in the City of Seattle, King County and State of Washington. Tony always devoted his time and attention to those most in need and he never tired of the work. He was generous, brilliant, energetic, charismatic, fiercely loyal and devoted to those he worked for, and his family and friends. Tony has worked with and won the admiration of hundreds of young people developing their careers in the field of service to others. He worked with hundreds of colleagues and humbly took his place on boards and committees, always willing to share his knowledge and skills but never seeking attention for himself. Tony won numerous awards for his leadership on social justice and accepted them with great humility, always stating the team effort involved and how grateful he was to his coworkers and family.
Tony had a beautiful, roaring laugh that was heard often and he will be forever remembered for that, as well as all of his good works. Tony enjoyed fine food, music and travel but also loved being at home with family. He loved large family gatherings and meals and always invited new people into the fold.
Tony was a hero and a champion for social justice his entire life. The loss of his life to ALS was extremely difficult for him and the hundreds of thousands of people who love him. Many, many people, for generations to come, during their working day, will ask themselves before making a decision, “what would Tony do?” Although we no longer hear Tony’s laugh, we encourage everyone from the halls of Olympia to the homes and communities in which he worked, to recall and remember. It will bring joy to your heart.
Tony was preceded in death by his parents Chang Pei Yu Lee and Wai Lee, his sisters Anna Chen, Lucy Lee, Theresa Lee and Magdalene Lee, and his mother-in-law Pokow Chun.
He is survived by his wife Angela Bartels, his son Christopher Lee (Sharon Lee), his step-daughter Anna Bartels of Seattle, WA, his siblings Joseph Lee of Bellevue, WA (Wei Lee), Mary Lee Stanzl and Cecilia Lee of Seattle, Bernadette Shih (Bill Shih) and Marie Pang (Tom Pang) of California. Tony is also survived by numerous nieces and nephews and extended family members. Please consider making a memorial to Tony by contributing to the Statewide Poverty Action Network at povertyaction.org, and Social Justice Fund Northwest at socialjusticefund.org.