By JANET HEIM
3:30 PM EST, February 25, 2012
Lee Jenkins was a people person. She touched many lives through her love and concern for others. Her two children describe her as a “solver of problems, counselor without a degree and second mom” to many.
“You got her opinion whether you wanted it or not,” said son James “Jimmy” Mills of Hagerstown. “She wasn’t afraid to tell you. She was very opinionated.”
Daughter Linda Smith of Hedgesville, W.Va., said her mother might not have been famous by the world’s standards, but was to those who knew her.
Lee Moats grew up in Hancock, raised with six siblings and three stepsiblings. She graduated from Hancock High School in 1959, then moved to Hagerstown after getting married.
Linda was born, followed by Jimmy four years later. Lee and her first husband divorced when the children were 9 and 5, and Lee took a job briefly with Maryland Ribbon Co., then Arnold Graphics.
In September 1978, Lee was hired by The Herald-Mail Co., where she worked in the Circulation Department, then worked in Human Resources for a total of 30 years, before her retirement in September 2008.
“She liked both of those areas because she was able to be around people, helping people,” Linda said.
Not long after her divorce, Lee met Wayne Jenkins. The couple, who lived near Boonsboro, were together on and off for about 20 years before they married in 1992. They celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary on Dec. 30, 2011.
“She met Wayne cruisin’ the Dual Highway with girlfriends,” Linda said.
Wayne said family always came first with Lee and that she touched a lot of lives.
“Being selfish, I wish she were still here,” Wayne said. “She’s definitely going to be missed.”
Wayne and Lee both liked cars and were involved with the Washington County Street Rodders, he said.
“She had a love of hot cars,” Jimmy said. “She always had a muscle car.”
Over the years, Lee owned a 1969 Roadrunner and a 1974 Dart Sport. She was still driving a 1979 Z-28.
Before Lee started working for The Herald-Mail, she was diagnosed with kidney disease and was treated with medication until her kidneys failed.
Lee was on dialysis for about a year before her younger sister, Hazel Helman, was able to donate a kidney to Lee. The transplant took place at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore right after Christmas 1981.
It was a fairly new procedure at the time, and the surgery was filmed as a teaching tool for medical students.
“There were a lot of people who knew my mom and didn’t know she had a kidney transplant,” Jimmy said.
“She was one of the longest kidney transplant survivors,” Linda said.
Hazel died in a car accident five years after the transplant. Lee took her son, Jeff Cunningham, under her wing.
“Mom took over. He’s our bro. She looked at him as hers,” Linda said of Jeff.
Jeff, who works at The Herald-Mail, said he and Lee were close.
“She emailed me three times a week,” he said. “When she called, she ran my phone down. She liked to talk.”
Schurz Communications Inc. Recruitment Manager Dave Elliott said he worked with Lee for 15 years. He said he was named human resources director at The Herald-Mail in 1995 with “zero H.R. background.”
Lee had worked in the department for several years and was “extremely helpful in helping me get started on that path,” he said.
“She really was well-loved and in many ways, she was a mom to many people here,” Dave said.
Herald-Mail Customer Advocate Roslyn “Roz” Levine said it was Lee’s care for employees and her willingness to help, no matter whether it was a personal or professional issue, that set Lee apart.
“She never turned anyone away. She always resolved the issue,” Roz said. “She was very firm with her answers and very straightforward and she stuck to her guns. You could confide in her.”
Many co-workers felt the same way about Lee, earning her the recognition of 2006 Herald-Mail Employee of the Year.
In her retirement, Lee was “kicking back,” Jimmy said. Lee and Wayne had more time to travel, and took trips to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and to visit Lee’s nephews in North Carolina.
She also used the time to reconnect with her sister at Reeders Nursing Home in Boonsboro, family members in Hancock and high school classmates.
“Retirement was a big change for her,” Linda said. “She was a worker.”
Lee had a granddaughter and grandson, Linda’s children. She and granddaughter Jenna Smith shared a love for shopping, and Linda said that passion must have skipped a generation with her.
“They wore me out,” Linda said. “They were shopping queens.”
Lee liked having the family together for holidays, although it was a job working around busy schedules.
“Christmas was always a really big holiday for our family,” said Linda, who added that her mother had started filling stockings for the family instead of individually wrapping gifts.
Her concern for others, though, was year-round.
“She was very outgoing, compassionate. She was not judgmental,” Linda said. “If you had problems, she’d talk to you and give her opinion. She would try to help you in any way she could — advice, money, whatever.”
“Or just a hug,” Jimmy added.
Due to the anti-rejection drugs Lee had to take the rest of her life after the kidney transplant, her immune system was compromised and she had to be careful about getting sick.
Lee had seemed healthy, focused on some ongoing dental work she was having done. She got sick suddenly, with flu-like symptoms, on the evening of Monday, Feb. 6.
A trip to the emergency room at Meritus Medical Center led to emergency surgery. Lee died four days later.
“It was really very quick,” Linda said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever know what the trigger was.”
Wayne said Lee had been so concerned about her kidney and that as her body shut down, the kidney was the “last thing to go.”
At her funeral, the Rev. Kenneth Harris said Lee had had a lot of adversity in her life and learned compassion as a result.
And how would Lee advise her family now, if she could?
“I think she would say ‘Keep moving forward. Stay together. Love one another. Keep exchanging stockings at Christmas,’” Linda said.
“Be strong,” Jimmy said.
Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Lee E. Jenkins, who died Feb. 10 at the age of 70. Her obituary was published in the Feb. 12 edition of The Herald-Mail.