Pat Lee, Art Zimiga, Charmaine White Face
From left, Pat Lee, Art Zimiga and Charmaine White Face are seen in Rapid City, South Dakota, in November 2018. The trio were part of a lawsuit over federal management of the Sioux San Hospital. Photo by Ernestine Chasing Hawk / Native Sun News Today
Notes from Indian Country
Saying farewell to an old friend
Monday, November 29, 2021

It is with deep sadness that I write this small tribute to my friend of 80 years who passed away last Monday. His name was Patrick Lee and he lost his life to that terrible COVID-19.

Pat and I were students at the Holy Rosary Indian Mission boarding school back in the 1940s. We often talked about those “Mission” days whenever we got together later in life.

After high school Pat joined the U. S. Air Force and found himself freezing his buns off in Thule, Greenland. I joined the U. S. Navy and found myself freezing my buns off in South Korea.

After we got back to Rapid City I ran into Pat at the Unemployment Office. We were both looking to get back on track by finding jobs. The young man reviewing our applications said that the big hail storm that just hit Rapid City did a lot of damage to some of the local businesses and the roofing company Whitaker and Matson was looking for roofers.

Patrick Lee Funeral Service

Posted by Sioux Funeral Home on Monday, November 29, 2021

Neither Pat nor I knew a darned thing about roofing, but the man said they were paying a whopping $1.50 an hour for all of the hours you could put in. We decided to give it a shot and got the jobs roofing. It turned out that our jobs was to mop hot tar on the damaged roofs. My cousin Buzzy Torres manned the hot kettle of tar and we would send down a rope with a bucket attached and Buzzy would fill the bucket with hot tar and send it back up to us.

We would pour the tar into a flat pan and dip our mops in it and start spreading it on to the roof. One day when it was about 100 degrees and we were sweating like pigs we took a break to drink some ice water. Pat looked at me and said, “This is no way to make a living for the rest of our lives, we both have the GI Bill and we should go to college.” Pat went on to get a law degree and I got one in journalism.

I got a job with the Farmington Daily Times in New Mexico and one day my editor said that I had a visitor in the newsroom. Lo and behold, there stood my friend Pat Lee. He said he saw my byline in the newspaper and so he decided to stop by the paper to say hello.

By then he had married Faith Herman and he had just taken a job with the Navajo Community College on the Navajo Nation at Shiprock, just across the border from Farmington. We renewed our friendship and often went out to dinner together and fishing in Navajo Lake on Saturdays. It was a good life in Farmington.

Pat went on to handle some pretty big legal cases in Rapid City while I went on to build a newspaper. But through all of this we still stayed in touch. In fact just about one month before he passed, Pat stopped by my newspaper office for a short visit. He was still in great pain over the loss of his wife Faith and we talked about the good times we shared together.

Pat will be missed by so many of the students he taught at Oglala Community College. I know he will be missed by Charmaine White Face and Theresa Spry as he was handling their big case against the Sioux San and the Indian Health Service just before he passed.

My heart goes out to all of his family and friends. I share his loss with you.


Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com

Note: Content © Tim Giago