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Obituary: Photographer recorded Island hockey for 30 years

Gordon Lee, a sports photographer who recorded Vancouver Island minor and Junior B hockey for more than 30 years, has died. Lee, 65, was found dead in his apartment on Oct. 16. An autopsy determined that he had died from internal bleeding.
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Gordon Lee, a professional sports photographer who captured all the action on the field and rink for the last 30 years, especially minor and Junior B hockey. He was also the official photographer for the Peninsula Panthers. Submitted by Lee family

Gordon Lee, a sports photographer who recorded Vancouver Island minor and Junior B hockey for more than 30 years, has died.

Lee, 65, was found dead in his apartment on Oct. 16. An autopsy determined that he had died from internal bleeding.

Lee was one of two sons born to Yut Chor and Chung Mee Lee, who ran several grocery stores in Victoria for about 50 years, including Wall’s Food Market, at the corner of Fernwood and Bay Streets, from 1961 to 1989.

His brother, Wyman, who is 11 months his senior, said working 12 hours a day, seven days a week to help their parents instilled a work ethic that stayed with them their whole lives.

For Gordon, that translated into investing hours into turning out professional-grade photographs.

“My brother was a control freak with his work. He wouldn’t just take one or two shots of a player — he would take 20. He was just over the top,” said Lee. “He would then edit every shot, turning out NHL professional-level photographs — for minor or junior players. It was insane.”

Gordon Lee developed an interest in photography in high school and took formal training at the now-closed Western Academy of Photography.

Over the past 36 years, he did all types of photography, from weddings in his early days to dog shows and modern dance. But he will be best remembered by generations of sports fans and players for his sports photography, especially Junior B hockey on Vancouver Island.

“He was everywhere,” said Norm Kelly, owner of the Saanich Predators. “I would see him at every game, every tournament, no matter the weather. I would see him at Panorama [Recreation Centre]. I would see him at Archie Browning and — I am dating myself here — at all the Victoria Salsa games.

“I would sometimes buy him a coffee after watching him shivering after spending hours at a game. Then, right after the game, he would set up his table to sell his pictures. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had taken a picture of every kid that has ever played hockey at a local tournament. The kids really appreciated that.”

Kelly remembers Lee taking the time to clean the glass at the end zones before a game so he would get clearer pictures. “He also had a great memory — he remembered everybody,” said Kelly.

The photographer’s passion for the sport was noticed by the various local clubs, and he became the official team photographer for the Peninsula Panthers in 1999.

“I think he never married because he was married to his work,” said Pete Zubersky, general manager of the Peninsula Panthers Junior Hockey Club. “He was a real artist, someone who could capture the essence of the game in a single shot. Hockey and lacrosse are the toughest sports to shoot, with lighting that isn’t always good and fast-moving players. Despite all that, Gordon was always able to come up with some amazing shots over his 22 years with the club.”

Zubersky estimates Lee took hundred of thousands of shots in his 30-plus year career.

“About five or six years ago, I noticed that Gordon had bought a new camera. I asked him about that and he told me that it wasn’t because he needed to upgrade — he had simply worn out his old camera.”

Wyman Lee says going through his brother’s prolific photo collection is a daunting task.

“Every single photo is catalogued. But there are stacks of boxes in the studio — all lined up — that I have to go through. Some have envelopes which likely contain negatives, as well as compact discs and hard drives. He never married, but I know he died doing what he loved — right to the end.”

Gordon Lee is survived by his mother and brother, who both live in Victoria. Some of his extended family reside in Vancouver. Due to concerns around large public gatherings, the family is postponing any memorial service to a later time.

parrais@timescolonist.com

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