Photos By: Jason Huynh
While sitting at Swift & Finch, a coffee shop located in Downtown Rome, it is easy for some to not know the importance of the kind-looking woman sitting in the corner with her coffee. But if given just a moment of your time, she can share with you the massive impact that she alone has had on the city of Rome.
Sue Lee is a native Roman who has spent her life pouring into the city and the Rome City Schools system. She has served two terms as a City Commissioner and has taught and served as a Media Specialist for the Rome City Schools. These things are just the tip of the iceberg that is the life of Sue Lee.
In the late 1930’s, Lee’s father moved his wife and son to Rome when his company was hired to build a water filtration plant. Lee hadn’t been born yet but according to her, her father’s business required him to move around, but he really wanted to settle down. After her mother told him it was time, they offered him a job in Rome and he stayed. He eventually became the City Manager in the early 1960s and retired in 1979.
Lee grew up surrounded by the inner workings of the city. “I got a pretty close up view of Rome, downtown, water and sewer. When he was working here, he was over at the City Auditorium. I say all of that to say that I love everything Rome. I have been here most of my life and really love it.”
Lee attended grade school here in Rome and went to Shorter University for her undergraduate degree. After college, she knew she wanted to plug into the community. So, she decided to do that by involving herself in the school system.
“I taught for a while and when they needed a media specialist back in the late 1960’s, I became a librarian. Over the years I’ve had several different jobs, but I have stayed in education,” Lee recalls.
The lifelong educator had an impact on all those she came in contact with in the school system, and some of her former students recognize her most from her exotic animal presentations. Lee was an avid collector of animals of all kinds and would travel to different schools and classrooms and offer presentations to the students. She wanted them to learn about animals they probably would not see in the rolling hills of Northwest Georgia.
She explains,“when I worked at the Rome City Schools Central Office, I had a number of exotic animals. That was a number of years ago, and I actually built a room in my house I call my zoo room. I would take the animals out to the schools and provide presentations; they loved the animals and they seemed to love me. But any time you take crazy animals out in the public, they are going to love you. To this day, I still have people who approach me and remember me as Ms. Lee with the animals. Now, I probably would not be allowed to own all of the animals that I had back then. The thing is, Georgia is very strict about owning exotic animals, one of the most stringent states in the country. But I had sugar gliders; I raised sugar gliders. I had chinchillas, rabbits and hedgehogs. I’m now basically down to some birds and reptiles.”
These are just a few of the types of animals she kept. She can’t have all of the animals that she once did, but she is still a strong supporter of animal rescue and this passion led to some of the biggest projects she accomplished in her terms as City Commissioner.
Lee’s two terms as City Commissioner led to multiple projects that benefitted Rome and the citizens who call it home.
“I always like to see what is going on in Rome with the politics, but I do feel that I was able to do some very exciting things while I served as a commissioner. We had a SPLOST (Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax) in 2013 and on it were two big things: one of them was the animal shelter and the tennis center. And I like to tell myself and others that I was quite instrumental in getting that SPLOST passed because I am very passionate about animal rescue and I have been a part of ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation) for a long time. I had ideas for a dog park years ago, so I’m really glad that they are finally starting that up,” says Lee.
Lee’s influence as a commissioner has changed Rome, some would say for the better. She had intended to run for a third term as commissioner, but due to a broken ankle she could not campaign. However, she is still pleased with the work she accomplished as one of the leaders in this community, and she is proud of the place she has called home.
When asked what her favorite thing about Rome is, Lee says that she loves the E.C.O. Center. She loves being on the river and all of the places along the river. She enjoys Broad Street and she is a strong supporter of Rome Little Theatre.
Her love for Rome is evident in the work she has done throughout her life. Even though she is officially retired, she still spends her free time working towards a better Rome.