The life of Norvel LaFallette Ray Lee, native son of Eagle Rock and Virginia’s first African American Olympic medalist was honored Saturday with the placement of a historical marker. The marker is adjacent to the Norvel LaFallette Ray Lee Memorial Highway, the portion of Rt. 220 that runs from Narrow’s Passage Road in Eagle Rock to Alleghany County.
Tiffany Bradbury, Director of Communications for Botetourt County was the mistress of ceremonies and opened the ceremony by welcoming Lee’s family and guests to Eagle Rock.
Del. Terry Austin who “carried the legislation to establish a portion of 220 in Lee’s honor and sponsored the resolution to honor Lee, said it was an honor to do so. “His life brings pride to our community,” said Austin.
“We are approximately a half of a century late in doing this but today we carry on the essential process of recognizing Mr. Lee as Botetourt’s most famous son,” said Steve Clinton, Botetourt Board of Supervisors. Clinton also shared that despite Lee’s many accomplishments he remained a “what you see is what you get kind of person”. “Today, we set Norvel Lee on the path of full recognition, for his athleticism, his humanity, and his character,” added Clinton. He closed by thanking Ed McCoy, former editor of the Fincastle Herald for publishing a story in 2016 that caught the eye of Kenneth Conklin, who researched Lee’s life and authored Norvel.
Rev. Nelson Harris, who submitted the application for the marker, talked about Lee’s legacy growing up in Botetourt County during the time of Jim Crow. He went on to become an Olympic champion, Tuskegee Airman, World War II veteran, Lt. Col. in the US Air Force Reserves, a prominent educator, youth mentor, as well as a civil rights leader. “He was widely recognized and honored for his overall leadership of numerous projects and initiatives around the Washington, DC metropolitan area,” said Harris. “Today, in Botetourt County we recognize this county’s favorite native son,” added Harris.
Conklin credited Dwayne Yancey, former writer for the Roanoke Times, for writing the original column suggesting a marker for Lee. “It came together like it was meant to be,” said Conklin. “This entire event would not have happened without Judy Barnette and her late brother Edward Barnette, who chronicled the African American history in Botetourt County,” added Conklin.
Tiffany Ayler, Lee’s granddaughter closed the dedication ceremony by thanking everyone for coming out and celebrating “all of my grandfather’s accomplishments. “Words can’t express how much this means to our family” said Ayler. She learned of many of her grandfather’s accolades and accomplishments by reading Conklin’s book. “We never knew a lot of these things growing up. To us he was just grandpa,” said Ayler in conclusion.
After the marker was unveiled the crowd enjoyed light refreshments at the Eagle Rock Library where the entire proclamation was read by Austin and Clinton and guests were able to see the medals Lee had won on display along with other memorabilia of his life.
Lee was married with two children at the time of his death in 1992. “He was a legend in the DC area,” according to the Washington Post.
|Del. Terry Austin; Brendan Burke, Department of Virginia Historic Records; Steve Clinton, Botetourt County Board of Supervisors; Rev. Nelson Harris; Kenneth Conklin, author of Norvel; Ken Floyd, Lee’s nephew; Tiffany Aylier, Lee’s granddaughter; Donna Anderson, Lee’s great granddaughter; Pat Johnson, Ayler’s god mother|
The Virginian Review has been serving Covington, Clifton Forge, Alleghany County and Bath County since 1914.