OBITUARY: Billie Lee, former Nichi Bei South Bay correspondent, dies

Billie Lee
Billie Lee

SAN JOSE — Billie Lee, the former South Bay correspondent of the Nichi Bei Times English section, passed away on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. She was 83.

She was remembered as an “avid traveler, advocate of the Asian American community, volunteer, and wife and mother of four,” said a statement from her family.

Lee, who earned her journalism degree later in life from San Jose State University after raising four children, started writing for the now-defunct Nichi Bei Times in 1996 after previously contributing articles to the San Jose Mercury News and AsianWeek.

She continued to cover South Bay news and events until she was sidelined by a stroke some six years ago.

“She had a good life,” said husband George Lee, who noted that she “traveled all over the world,” was “very active” and was also an avid tennis player who even operated her own gift shop in a local mall for 10 years.

“I’m deeply saddened by the passing of Billie, who was much more than a writer, but a dear friend and a tremendous source of support over the years,” said Kenji G. Taguma, the former English section editor of the Nichi Bei Times and current editor-in-chief of the Nichi Bei Weekly. “She made tremendous contributions to the community, covering countless stories in the South Bay area, especially in San Jose’s Japantown.”

Billie and George Lee have also contributed to the establishment of the Nichi Bei Foundation, the nonprofit formed in 2009 that publishes the Nichi Bei Weekly, Taguma said. “Billie was also one of the kindest, most caring people I know, who deeply cared about the Asian American community,” he added. “Her belief in what we were doing helped to give our movement a lift. My thoughts are with George and their family.”

Former Nichi Bei Times staff also remembered her fondly. Yukiya Jerry Waki said he was “grateful to have known and work with her,” while Tim Yamamura said “she will be missed.”

Lee is survived by her husband of 60 years, George; daughters Coleen Lee-Wheat, Margarite Lee and Christine Lee; and son Lester Lee. She is also survived by four grandchildren: Keil Wheat, Casie Wheat, Jonathan Lee and Elizabeth Smiley.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Feb. 1, 1 p.m., at the Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church Sanctuary, 728 W. Fremont Ave. in Sunnyvale, Calif.

A viewing will be held on Saturday, Feb. 1, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at the Lima Mortuary, 1315 Hollenbeck Ave. in Sunnyvale.

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