It was May 1925, river levels were up, and the American Society of Civil Engineers was holding its Mid-South convention in Memphis. The Corps of Engineers had provided two riverboats for a sightseeing excursion for the engineers and their families south to Cow Island to see how the levees were holding up. On the return trip, one of the boats, the M.E.Norman capsized. No one ever knew the exact cause, but Tom Lee, then 39 years old, spotted the problem, headed back to the calamity, and in his small open boat the Zev rescued 32 survivors. Another 20 survivors swam to the bank. Twenty-three passengers and crewmembers lost their lives.
Tom Lee was nationally recognized for his bravery and flew to Washington, D.C. to be honored by President Coolidge. Subsequently Lee worked as a City sanitation worker until his retirement in 1948. He died April 1, 1952.
Tom Lee Park is named in his honor, and the beautiful sculptural depiction of his valiant and brave action is a highlight on the Memphis riverfront.
Click HERE for some fascinating details.
Click HERE for coverage by Bill Dries for the "Daily News."