Saturday, April 11, 2015

Chaucer Gory Lee (1869-1957)

Portrait courtesy of the Ames Public Library webpage.

     Lifelong Iowa resident Chaucer Gory Lee was for many years an active participant in the public affairs of Story County, being a leading citizen in the city of Ames. For several years Lee would serve Ames as its city attorney and in 1907 entered upon duties as District Court Judge for Iowa's 11th district. Lee would attain his highest degree of political prominence in 1914 when he was a candidate in the Republican primary for Governor of Iowa.
   Born and raised in Jasper County, Iowa, Chaucer Gory "C.G." Lee was born on August 8, 1869, the son of James and Sarah Whitcomb Lee. The origins of his unusual first name "Chaucer" are unknown at this time, but may have a connection to Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), the famed English poet and author of "The Canterbury Tales". Early in his life, he relocated to Ames, Iowa to enroll at the Iowa Agricultural College, graduating in the class of 1894. Following his graduation, he began studying law at the Drake Law School in Des Moines and was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1895.
   Soon after his admittance Lee entered the law office of Daniel McCarthy. In 1897 Lee married Daniel's daughter Emma, to whom he was wed for fifty-two years. The couple are believed to have been childless. A year before his marriage Lee made his first move into Ames political life when he won election as city attorney, holding that office for six years. Five years after the conclusion of his term as city attorney Lee was elected as District Court Judge for Iowa's 11th district and served on the bench until his resignation in 1914, and was succeeded by John M. Kamrar.

An election notice for Judge Lee, from the Iowa State Bystander, May 29, 1914.

   In the final year of his term as District Judge in April 1914, Lee announced that he would be seeking the Republican nomination for Governor of Iowa, the Republican primary election being held on June 1st. As one of three candidates vying for the nomination (the others being then Governor George W. Clarke and John W. Rowley), Lee's candidacy was boomed in several Iowa newspapers, including the Iowa State Bystander (notice shown above.) Other notices and endorsements made light of Lee's standing as a "clear-sighted"  and "just" judge during his time on the bench. One of these notices, a glowing endorsement in the Ottumwa Tri-Weekly Courier from state senator Daniel Cady Chase, made it known that:
"Those in this district who have seen Judge Lee on the bench have been impressed with the fact that in the first place he is clear sighted mentally and in the second place he has what is exceedingly rare in any public man,  the courage of his convictions......Judge Lee is the type of man who has the ability to brush away all sophistries and look at a question in its elemental aspects and more than that, he has has the courage to accept responsibility for a decision along those lines. He is of that type of man which is very rare; intellectually honest and brave enough to go wherever his honest judgement leads him."
    After voters went to the polls on June 1st it was incumbent Governor George W. Clarke who was renominated. While newspapers reported Clarke's winning total as being between "90,000-100,000" votes, Lee placed second, garnering 65,000 votes. Following his gubernatorial loss, Lee returned to practicing law in Ames and proved to be an influential booster in the further development of Ames's infrastructure, being "responsible for 15 additions and subdivisions" to the city.
   In 1949 Emma McCarthy Lee, C.G. Lee's wife of over fifty years died at age 85. Following her passing Lee honored his late wife by presenting the city with several acres of land which would become a park named in her honor. After many years of public service to Ames, Chaucer Gory Lee died on January 4, 1957, at age 87. He was interred alongside his wife at the Ames Municipal Cemetery.

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