CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — A well-known southern Maine auto dealer who also made his mark as a civic leader, a driving force in Maine’s Democratic Party and a philanthropist died Wednesday at the age of 83.
Shepherd “Shep” Lee, founder of Lee Auto Malls, died of cancer at home surrounded by family, according to his obituary.
“Shep was a close friend and confidante and a stalwart supporter of the people of Maine. His tireless advocacy for economic development is unmatched, as is his lifetime of philanthropy and dedication to Maine communities,” said Gov. John Baldacci, who spoke with Lee’s wife, Candice, Thursday morning to express his sym-pathies.
Lee also was a close friend and adviser to U.S. Sen. George Mitchell and the late U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie and the late Justice Frank M. Coffin, his obituary said.
Earlier this year, Baldacci had nominated Lee for a seat on the Finance Authority of Maine board of directors, a post Lee had held in the past. Lee also served on the Maine Community College board of trustees, the University of Maine Law School visitors board and the advisory board of the University of Maine’s School of Business. He received the 2004 Muskie Access to Justice Award, the governor noted.
Lee also was a member of the national board of the American Civil Liberties Union and received its highest honor, the Roger Baldwin Award, according to his obituary.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said Thursday that Lee will be sadly missed.
“Maine has lost a true friend and devoted citizen,” she said. “Shep spent his life building a business, raising a wonderful family and giving back to the people of our state. Shep’s generosity, his commitment to economic development that would benefit all Maine people, and his leadership in the business community made this state a better place to live.”
After graduating from Bowdoin College in 1947, Lee joined his father’s car dealership, Advance Auto Sales in Auburn, eventually building up an empire of nine locations throughout southern Maine.
Among the causes Lee supported was the Maine Center for Economic Policy.
“For more than five decades, Shep Lee has been one of Maine’s foremost advocates for social and economic justice,” MECEP Executive Director Christopher St. John said. “MECEP has been a grateful recipient of his support since the organization’s inception in 1994.” St. John said the center recently sponsored the inaugural Shep Lee Lecture, inspired by Lee’s life of public service.
The family plans a private funeral, but will announce plans for a memorial in the next two months.
Visitors are welcome to visit Lee’s home at 6 Phantom Farm Road in Cape Elizabeth from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Parking will be available at Saint Bartholomew Catholic Church.