Almost 94 years after saving 32 people from drowning in the Mississippi River, Tom Lee’s heroism has been recognized by the Memphis City Council and City of Memphis.
Charmeal Neely, Tom Lee’s great-great niece, joined staff and board of Memphis River Parks Partnership at the council meeting to hear the proclamation.
“Tom Lee’s family has not only contributed to Memphis history and the many lives touched by his bravery but also to the spirit of Tom Lee Park as the centerpiece of Memphis’ front door,” said Memphis City Council Chairman Kemp Conrad. “We are proud to honor Charmeal and her family’s service in light of this anniversary.”
On May 8, 1925, Lee, a river-worker who could not swim, came across the capsized steamship M.E. Norman during a routine run down the river. Lee, in his small wooden skiff Zev, immediately raced to assist the passengers stranded in the river.
At great personal risk to himself, Lee repeatedly filled his boat with survivors and ferried them to safety on shore. Even after help arrived hours later, Lee continued to search through the night for remaining survivors.
In 1954, the City of Memphis honored Lee by renaming Astor Park as Tom Lee Park. In 2006, a bronze statue by sculptor David Alan Clark depicting the rescue was added to the park.
“Tom Lee truly embodies the spirit of all that is Memphis,” Mayor Jim Strickland said. “He risked his own life to save so many others, and to honor him and his family in this way for their contribution is something I’ve been looking forward to for while.”
Tom Lee’s legacy of service and compassion will be celebrated Wednesday, May 8, the 94th anniversary of Lee’s selfless act, at Beale Street Landing from 4 – 6 p.m. Mayor Jim Strickland will join Tom Lee’s descendants along with descendants of those saved in recognizing Lee and his contribution to Memphis history in this Bicentennial year.
“Ever since Mayor Strickland and the Memphis River Parks Partnership reached out to me last year when the park’s new designs were first presented, I have been blown away by the partnership and friendship,” said Charmeal Neely. “I am eternally grateful we are keeping this legacy alive together.”
“Tom Lee is a Memphis hero,” said Carol Coletta, President and CEO of Memphis River parks Partnership. “Just as Tom Lee bravely reached across boundaries of race and class in his heroic rescue of his fellow Memphians, so Tom Lee Park can be shared space that connects people from across the community to one another.”