Cool, Storyteller, Charming, Philosopher, Handsome, Fashionable, these are some of the words that those who knew Dr. Billy Frank Lee would use to describe him. The fashionable cool, handsome, philosopher who could tell a story like no one else made his “debut” On Thursday, March 13, 1941. He was the fifth child born to Katherine (Simpson) and Bammer Lee. Billy’s debut signified that Katherine and Bammer now had enough children to form their own basketball team, he joined big sisters Claudia and Belvia and big brothers Horace (“Jiggs”) and Willie. Over the next 21 years Billy would become big brother to Charlene, Barbara (“Butchie”), Clara Jewel, Sandra Diane, James, Ronald, Cathy, Stevie and Judy, enough siblings to form their own football team!
By all accounts Billy was a rambunctious, spirited little boy. Billy was daring and known for creating “adventures” for his younger sisters, Charlene, Butchie” and Jewel. Though born in Tyler, Texas the birthplace of at least three generations of both Lee’s and Simpson’s, he was primarily reared in Omaha, Nebraska. The family made the trek from Texas to Omaha, when Billy was 4, and settled in the Seward Plaza Housing Complex where Billy made great friends and quickly established himself, as someone to be “reckoned with” in the neighborhood. His mother was often called to the school due to some of his more daring “shenanigans.” It was said that Billy always “danced to the beat of his own drum.” For a little Black boy growing up in the Midwest in the 1940’s and 50’s this could lead to trouble. Believing that a change of scenery would help to thwart some of Billy’s more challenging behavior, when he was 15 it was decided he would join his father in Vallejo. Upon arrival, Billy entered Vallejo High School. The change of scenery, only slightly dampened Billy’s challenging behavior. Deciding that school “wasn’t for him” he explored other options. These “options” continued to be troublesome for Billy.
The 1960s were one of the most tumultuous decades in world history. Billy’s desire to be his own man, and forge his own way led him to experiment and become part of the “counter culture.” He joined Synanon, an organization originally established as a drug rehabilitation program and made significant strides both personally and professionally. His work with Synanon led him to move to New York. In the early 1970’s Billy was selected to travel to Viet Nam to represent the organization and discuss the merits of drug rehabilitation. Later, Billy returned to the San Francisco Bay Area and dabbled in numerous professions before returning school, eventually earning his doctorate degree in Philosophy.
Billy’s work in the area of counseling and rehabilitation led him to UCSF Hospital, where he was a pioneer in working with AIDS patients. He sought to help patients who were often ostracized, live their lives with dignity and respect. Billy retired from UCSF where he was recognized for his numerous accomplishments in the area of counseling and rehabilitation.
Billy had an unyielding love for his siblings and their children. Most of his nieces and nephews can share an instance where Billy offered encouragement and made them feel worthy and special.
Billy’s love for his children and grandchildren was deep and steadfast. Lonzine, her daughter Arayna and their numerous accomplishments always filled Bill with a sense of pride. Sonya and her daughter Saudia and his first great-granddaughter Samya brought him tremendous joy. The bond he created with his son JR extended to his children as well. He was adamant about returning to California to see Byrd’s son Myles. Ironically, Billy transitioned from this world to the next on Myles’s first birthday.
Billy’s earthly journey ended on January 30, 2023. He was preceded in death by his parents Bammer and Katherine and siblings, Claudia, “Jiggs”, Willie, Belvia, Butchie, Diane and his “sister in love,” Priscilla.
He leaves to cherish his memory, daughters, Lonzine Lee, Sonya Moore-Lee, and Theresa “Byrd” Palec and son Suleiman “JR” Ashafa, as well as their children and grandchildren. He is survived by four sisters, Charlene Lee, Clara Jewel Barrow, Cathy Cook and Judy Beard, and three brothers, James Cook, Ronald Cook (Belinda) and Stevie Lee (Veronica), as well as numerous nieces, nephews, cousins and good friends.