A Louisiana legend is gone

Louisiana lost a modern-day icon Monday in Sheriff Harry Lee.

At age 75, Lee lost his five-month battle with leukemia. He died quietly Monday morning at Ochsner Medical Center.

Lee was elected top cop in Jefferson Parish in 1980. In the Oct. 20th election, Lee was in the running for an eighth term in the post.

Over the last 27 years, he’s made headlines with his “no holds barred, shoot-from-the-hip” talk against crime and gun-toting cowboy persona. As the parish’s second-longest serving sheriff, he quickly caught the ear and attention of the nation, whether he was popping off his mouth or nutria.

The singing cowboy may have had his share of political faux pas’ – Lee was frequently a lightening rod for controversy. Few can forget his attempt to curb Orleans crime from seeping across parish lines by erecting a barricade at the point where Jefferson and Orleans meet. The move was met with racial overtones: Jefferson is a predominately white parish, while then-violence ridden Orleans was a majority black parish.

On another occasion, he ordered deputies to stop black men who were driving “rinky-kink cars” in predominantly white neighborhoods. The order was later rescinded, but not before the national spotlight again shone on Jefferson Parish.

Lee reasoned his straightforward approach was what voters wanted. He once told reporters he believed in speaking his mind; nothing was sugarcoated.

If Lee’s approach to politics was Louisiana-esque – the stuff the Long brothers are legendary for – his approach toward law enforcement was the stuff larger agencies are made of.

During his tenure, Lee assembled an arsenal of state-of-the-art equipment for fighting crime, hurricanes and virtually any other disaster from land, sea or sky. Cashing in on his political clout, he made the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office the envy of other larger law enforcement departments.

Harry Lee was undeniably a political machine. A one-man force who led his troops into battle. He was one more unforgettable character in Louisiana’s colorful political history. And for that, we’ll miss him.