Could you take heart-wrenching, gut-churning sorrow and tragedy and somehow turn it into peace and goodness?
Not many people could.
Wendy Lee and family of Helena have stood fast in the face of one of life's greatest losses. Their story is one of
inspiration and remembrance.
It's the story of a tiny baby, Sailor Kate Lee. Sailor died one of the most tragic deaths imaginable, struck down in the
family's own driveway after she toddled into the path of her grandfather's car.
Sailor's memory will live on, however, and her legacy will help countless numbers of other youngsters find peace
and comfort in troubled times.
By Robert Horne
The Telfair Enterprise
Wendy Lee is proof that even in the worst tragedy positive things can happen.
Wendy and Jonesy Lee lost their 15-month old daughter Sailor Kate Lee in a terrible accident in February 2001, but
despite that tragedy Wendy is reaching out to children around the world.
Wendy and her family are donating teddy bears to the Georgia State Patrol's 'Teddy Bears in Trunks" program.
This program supplies teddy bears to state troopers to comfort children involved in car accidents.
"Our teddy bear project started after this incident," Wendy said one fall afternoon while sitting in a gazebo
constructed in Sailor's memory. "We had so many teddy bears sent to the funeral, and we were not sure what to do
with them. They brought up too many sad memories to keep them around. We didn't have anywhere to keep them
because there were so many.
"(The state patrol) graciously accepted all we gave them (for an existing program). As news started spreading
around the community, we started getting more and more teddy bears donated."
Troopers say the bears have a calming affect on children involved in accidents.
"(The bears) really help their feelings," says SFC Jeff Hinson, post commander of Georgia State Patrol Post 16 in
Helena. "(The bears) calm them down. It is a big plus to get them to recognize what the police are and be able to
come to them in a time of need instead of being scared of police. The bears are just a positive reinforcement."
Wendy said this project, and her deep faith, has helped her deal with the death of her young daughter.
The teddy bears donated to the GSP have a little tag on each one with a picture of an angel that Wendy says
resembles little Sailor. The tag also has a Bible verse - ... The God of love and peace shall be with you. II
Corinthians 13:11 - and a line that lets recipients know the bears are donated in memory of Sailor.
"Someone said to me that after all this ... when a family buries a loved one they feel like that is all they can do for
them," Wendy remembers. "That everything kind of falls apart because you think you can't do anything else.
"I think that through projects like this in her name and memory is definitely helping me because there is not an end
to it - not a finality."
Sailor's bears go world-wide
What started out for the Lee family as way to say thanks to the local community has quickly blossomed into a
world-wide project and has garnered the attention of one of the most generous people in the world.
Russ Berrie, owner of the Russ Corp., has donated 14 dozen bears to the project.
Family friend Ruby Reaves saw Berrie being interviewed on a television talk show as one of the 40 most generous
people in the world. Wendy recounts that Reaves told her that Berrie's business helps people who are trying to
make the world a better place.
Wendy emailed him about their project, looking for a bear that resembled Sailor or had a sailor's hat.
"We had been looking on the Internet for teddy bear manufactures to make a sailor bear," Wendy says. "One teddy
bear manufacturer would do the outfit for a Sailor bear. The bears would be $3 a piece, but we had to buy 5,000 of
"We don't have that kind of money," Wendy added with a smile.
Although Berrie's toy company, did not have a sailor bear, the Russ Corp. donated 14 dozen bears to the Lees -
and gave them permission to put Sailor's tags on them.
"He usually does big things - I'm surprised he responded to our little cause," Wendy said. "I didn't know if he'd help
us. Our cause is kind of small compared to the big things he does. He said they did not have a sailor bear, but he
thought it was a good project, and he wanted to donate some other bears in her name.
"We were not looking for a handout, but we wouldn't turn it away. You can't say no when someone is offering
Giving back to the community
Kind gestures is something the Lee family knows all about.
Their efforts to put teddy bears in the trunks of state patrol cars stems from all the acts of kindness directed to the
family after the tragic accident that fateful day in February.
After the tragedy, the Telfair community came together in a way Wendy can only describe as overwhelming.
"This small town has just poured its heart out to us," Wendy said. "So much so that we don't even know how to say
thank you. How do you say that to so many people for things that we are still finding out about?
"The teddy bears are our way of giving back to the community for all it has done for us because it has all been
unreal. The acts of kindness and generosity and the way the whole community came together for us has really
overwhelmed me. And I know that since then, this community has done a lot for others that have had a hard time in
Wendy's determination to find good from tragedy can be seen far beyond Telfair County - all over the world, in fact.
When Wendy was expecting Sailor, she joined an online chat group for soon-to-be-mothers.
Those online friends, from various parts of the world, have helped spread the news about the Lee family's efforts
after the death of their daughter.
Wendy and her five-year-old son Rhett have a map in the home.
On that map, Rhett and Wendy place little angels on the places where Sailor's bears have been received.
"It's just amazing because we've heard from all over the United States and the world," Wendy says. "We've heard
from Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Italy, Sweden, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand and Venezuela. It's amazing what the
Internet can do."
A baby angel
The teddy bear project is not the only thing being done in Sailor's name.
Sailor's great-great aunt, Pat Yawn Lundberg, who by hobby designs jewelry, has designed a charm in Sailor's
Wendy wears the original, sculpted in silver, around her neck.
"My great aunt told me she wanted to make something in memory of the baby," Wendy said. "I asked her about
making a baby angel charm. It's so hard to find an angel that looks like a baby.
"I thought she was going to make me a baby with wings. From one of the photos - she's wearing a little hat and a
diaper - she made some little charms. It is really amazing how something so tiny can resemble her so much."
Once Wendy started wearing the charm, many friends and family wanted one.
Pat sent it off to a professional so duplicates could be made.
"(Pat) said it was going so well, why don't we sell them and let the profits go into an account to do something for
other kids," Wendy says.
"My dad said if we're going to do something for other kids why don't we stay with the same program to buy more
And they did.
The charms will help the Lee family pay for the Sailor bears that will be donated to the teddy bear program.
Wendy's father constructed the gazebo dedicated to Sailor. It sits on the site where the accident occurred, painted
white and pink, and adorned with hand-carved hearts and angels.
"Dad wanted to put something pleasant here," Wendy remembers. "He hand-carved every little piece."
In some sense, the compassion she has taught her middle-school students is also Wendy's way of giving back to a
community that has cared so much for her and her family during their time of need.
"I tell my students about this and anything that is going on," Wendy says. "I want them to be good citizens. I want
them to do things for other people. We participate in the Relay for Life. We raise money for cystic fibrosis and the
American Heart Association. I'm always encouraging them to do things ... especially when it's local."
A true family project
Encouragement comes from so many places for Wendy. Probably none more important than from her young son.
Rhett is a typical 5-year-old boy except for the fact that he is already familiar with one of life's toughest tests - the
loss of a loved one.
He too is dealing with it by giving back. Rhett helps his mom tie the tags around the teddy bears that are donated in
his little sister's memory.
And Wendy is keeping records of what has happened to share with Rhett when he is older and can better
understand what happened.
"We've been keeping good records of all the things going on so one day he'll have a tangible testimony of what God
has done with his baby sister," Wendy says.
While young Rhett may have experienced one of life's toughest tests, he still manages to see the world through the
eyes of a child.
And that has allowed him to have perhaps the best perspective of all.
Wendy says that when they misplace something in the yard, he wonders if Sailor can help him find the misplaced
object because she has a better perspective of the yard from Heaven.
"We lost our dog, Bitsy, last summer," Wendy says. "One day we were outside, and we saw a cloud that looked just
like Bitsy with a halo. Rhett said, I bet Sweetpea gets (the halo) and shines it up for her so it'll be pretty and shiny."
Yes, the Lee family is proof that the world is still full of positive things.
|In Sailor's Memory
(The Telfair Enterprise)