They called him Lee: The glorious life and strange death of Leon Shaw



The life of Leon Shaw, who died Sept. 14, was larger than most, and if there is a pantheon of glorious Kitsap residents, he deserves honorable mention. Maybe he isn’t in the category of Chief Seattle or Delilah, but maybe the pantheon needs to make some room. From mentoring a bull, to telling the future, to mastering ping pong, to wowing women so often his own sister lost track the number of marriages he had, Lee lived a full life to the fullest. And let us not overlook that sweet mustache. If he was your friend, he would give you the shirt off his back, and not just because he looked good without a shirt.

On Sunday there will be a memorial for this son of South Kitsap. Lee’s family and friends will gather at 3 p.m. at the Port Orchard Pavilion, 701 Bay Street. The service is open to the public.

Lee was born at Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton and was raised in Port Orchard. If he would have graduated from South Kitsap High School, he would have been class of 1979. He loved the song “Heart of Glass” by Blondie and used to practice John Travolta’s disco moves. He has a son, who is said to be a spitting image of his father, which is a blessing to the world.

His ability to tell the future came in sudden waves, said his sister Barb.

On one occasion he was riding in a car with their mother and had a vision of him getting dropped off and his mother continuing on and dying in a wreck. His face blanched and then he refused to get out of the car. He might have saved her life.

“Too bad he didn’t visualize his own death before, so he could have prevented it,” Barb said.

Lee’s death, or what is known of it, bizarre and untimely as it is, boggles the mind, and seems so unfair in light of his amazing life. Here is what we know: He met a woman online. They went on a date and had a few drinks, nothing wrong with that. They went to the house of a friend of Lee’s, a tattoo artist. The friend began tattooing the date’s chest. OK.

Well, then Lee’s date becomes “intimate” with his friend. Safe to assume this prompted a “What the hell?” moment from Lee. Reports say a conflict ensued, and that the date hit Lee, and Lee hit her back. They leave. Next thing anyone knows, Lee is dead, likely from being run over. The woman is behind the wheel of Lee’s truck, and has driven over an embankment and is seriously injured. OK then.

This all happened in Gig Harbor, where Lee had been staying with a friend, so it is the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office investigating. A spokesman for the department said Friday investigators are waiting on the results of blood tests.

For a press account, here is the Tacoma News Tribune’s version of events.

Lee’s obituary reads like a piece of folklore, the kind of obituary that should get its own genre. It is definitely the greatest obit I have ever read, and I’ve read a few. The photo, too, is epic. It shows a mountain of a man on the high seas, astraddle a gunwale, what might be a can o’beer in his hand, naked save for well-fitting dungarees presumably because he just gave a friend the shirt off his back. His bronze pecs glisten in the sun, the wind lifts back his wavy mane. He gives an easy smile, along with the peace sign. Damn. All the women wanted to date him, the men would have wanted to date him too if they had any sense.

Here is the obit, in its entirety. It is too well-written, too poetic, to try to summarize like a press release, or to just provide a link. Savor it.

Leon Robert Shaw

June 10, 1961 to Sept. 14, 2014

He was a guy that loved to make you laugh. He had a presence about him when he walked into a room. He stood nearly 6’4” and was handsomely well-built. You’d want this guy for a friend. He had a sweetness that grabbed at your heart strings. He was a very hard worker, he could master just about anything he tried in short order. His word was his bond. You knew you could count on him.

Though he never won any trophies for pool or Ping-Pong, he was one of the best. He liked being athletic to keep his muscles tone. At 10 years old, he had a lawn mowing route in the area of the Forest Park grocers. In South Kitsap High, he was the only boy in the soprano singing section. Then his voice went to bass and he grew four inches in three months.

He ran away from home at 15 and got a job at the golf course on Long Lake Road. He came back to finish his youth. He found work in construction.

He loved his dad teaching him to ride a motorbike, which he taught his sister Barb when she was 15. He loved to go fast and take risks. He had visions, and could predict the future at times, he believed this was due to him being 1/4 Nez Percé Indian. He loved nature and going camping. He was a dead shot with a rifle. All the farm animals loved him. He raised a bull that he could do anything with, while the neighbors sat on an old panel van in the field, as the bull thrashed his horns on the van. That same bull caught our chicken thieves. He had chickens jump on his arm at the snap of his fingers. And when he ran away, our Doberman was so sad he just slept on his dirty clothes.

At age 11, he built a two-story tree house 50 feet up an old maple. He and his brother hoisted up a queen size mattress. Our dad, Leon Sr., gave us a ferry rope to tie up and swing from.

Survivors include BFF, Keith Hoppe (53); his only child, son Jared Burbee (32); mom, Mildred White (76); half sister, Connie DeBoard (60); half sister, Faythe Neese (56); brother, David Shaw (52); sister, Barb Cress (51); stepbrother, Mark McCormick; stepbrother, Robbie Griffin; stepsister, Tracy Griffin.

May he rest in peace and fly with the eagles.

Obit published in the Kitsap Sun on Sept. 19, 2014

2 thoughts on “They called him Lee: The glorious life and strange death of Leon Shaw

  1. My sister was engaged to him in 92. Her name is Donna Smith. She had been trying to find him when she saw the story of his passing. Do you know anything that transpired after such as the woman that did this or if she even got charged?

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