John Pedersen’s voice cracked before he stood to read the words on a plaque.

“Because of COVID-19, we really have never been able to grieve Chris’ passing,” the Myrtle Beach city manager said of Chris Lee on Tuesday morning.

Lee died on April 6 after battling cancer.

“He always had a smile on his face, even towards the end. When I would tell him, ‘You don’t have to be here; we’ll find a way to do this, you know, you just get better,’ he would come back and say, ‘Boss, I want to be here. I want to do this. I want to serve this community.’

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a finer fellow,” Pedersen said of the construction services director.

Minutes after the city council began the regular bi-monthly meeting, Pedersen was asked to speak about the city manger’s Inspiration Award. It was established in 2016 to recognize city employees who have embodied the city’s directive of public service while inspiring the city’s workforce.

A video flashed photos of Lee smiling, making faces and helping community members at city-sponsored events. Images flickered as department heads talked about the tall man they knew, loved and laughed with.

“Chris Lee aka The Big Sexy,” said Ken May, director and zoning administrator, talking about catching himself from texting or calling Lee throughout the days since April. “Chris was a standup guy. He was top notch. You knew he always had your back. He is a friend that is greatly missed, greatly cherished.”

Lee began working for the city in 1999 and rose through the ranks to department head in 2017.

And one duty of department heads is to attend the city council meetings.

It was there, on the left side of the room in the orange chairs of the council chambers in the Ted C. Collins Law Enforcement Center that he would sit beside Michelle Shumpert of the city’s financial management and reporting office.

Shumpert said she would have to be on guard when sitting beside Lee because he would crack jokes at odd times in the meetings.

“I miss him,” she said nodding her head.

Pedersen handed the plaque to Lee’s father and sister after telling them Lee was special for “his ability to bring out the best in others, his outstanding teamwork and his grace and courage under adverse health conditions.”

From now on, Pedersen said, the annual award given to city employees will be known as the Chris Lee Inspiration Award.

Janet Morgan is the editor of the Myrtle Beach Herald. Contact her at 843-488-7258 or at janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com.

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