Harry Lee Portrait

Former Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee

Photo provided by Cynthia Lee-Sheng

Harry Lee might have easily been dismissed as a caricature: the rotund Chinese sheriff who liked country music and tough talk. But Lee was not to be ignored. He was born to a family of Chinese immigrants who owned a laundry on Carondelet Street in New Orleans. He graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in geology and served in the Air Force. He became a driver and adviser to Rep. Hale Boggs and later, after he finished Loyola Law School, he was elected to his first term as sheriff of Jefferson Parish. Lee would serve seven terms as a Democrat, sometimes winning as much as 70 percent of the vote. His actions, though, were often at odds with his party affiliation and his relationship with Boggs’ who had been in favor of civil rights.

After Hurricane Katrina, Lee blamed a spike in crime on the African-Americans who had moved into Jefferson Parish. He suggested that his deputies should stop and question young black men. He previously made similar comments during crime sprees in Jefferson Parish, sometimes drawing national attention.

He was friends with Gov. Edwin Edwards, and after Edwards said he wouldn’t run for governor, the sheriff briefly joined the race for governor, but he soon pulled out of the race saying “Why would I want to be governor when I can be king.” Lee also befriended President Bill Clinton and singer Willie Nelson. He died in 2007.