WILKES-BARRE — Lee Namey, who died Monday, always had his telephone number listed when he was on City Council and later as mayor, and it rang often.
Callers included an elderly woman who asked then-Mayor Namey for help when her basement flooded. Sometimes she would call in the middle of the night.
On every occasion, Namey would get out of bed, grab a sump pump and head out to pump her basement.
“But he insisted that she wouldn’t tell anybody because he didn’t want any press coverage,” Namey’s daughter, Angela Falzone, said. “That’s the way he was. He didn’t want accolades.”
Namey, who family and friends described as quiet and unassuming, died on his 69th birthday at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. He was remembered by politicians he served with as a fiscally conservative mayor and a dedicated public servant who worked hard to improve the city and Wyoming Valley.
His public service began when he was elected to City Council in 1975, along with Frank Trinisewski, Tom McLaughlin and Kevin Blaum.
Blaum said he didn’t know Namey until then, but soon they became close friends.
A Democrat, Namey was on City Council until 1988, when he became mayor and served two terms in that office, leaving in 1992. Before council, Blaum and Namey knew each other only from their high school rivalry — Blaum at Coughlin and Namey at Meyers.
“When I first met him on council, I asked him, ‘Are you that Lee Namey? The Lee Namey from Meyers who the kids from Coughlin hated?’ He smiled and said, ‘That’s me.’ From that point, we became allies on council and soon we were close friends,” Blaum said.
Blaum was elected to the state House in 1980, but he and Namey stayed friends. Their children grew up together.
“Lee was all about fiscal discipline,” Blaum recalled. “Times were tough back then in the city.”
From their first days on council, Blaum said, Namey got into the budgets.
“He was a numbers guy,” he said. “He would never spend money he didn’t have.”
Blaum said Namey devoted countless hours to strengthening and beautifying the city’s neighborhoods and the downtown.
“He recognized the importance of the entrances to the city,” Blaum said. “But he was all about getting the city’s fiscal house in order and taking care of the neighborhoods.”
Blaum called Namey a “gentle man,” who introduced him to fishing. Namey was an avid hunter and fisherman and he took Blaum along on a trip to Canada with some buddies.
“That was the first and last time I ever did anything like that,” Blaum said with a chuckle. “We took a mobile home and drove 12 hours north to the edge of a lake where we were picked up by a pontoon plane. We flew for almost an hour on a puddle jumper that I think was powered by a rubber band. God only knows where we were.”
But Blaum said he had a good time catching walleye and northern pike, and he and Namey reminisced many times about the trip.
“Lee was an ally of our generation,” Blaum said. “He lived for his family — his wife, his kids and his grandchildren.”
Blaum said he was feeling melancholy since he got the news his friend had died.
Mayor Tom Leighton issued a statement on Namey’s passing, calling the former mayor “a dedicated public servant whose career spanned decades.” He said Namey was “a tireless champion” for Wilkes-Barre and the greater Wyoming Valley.
According to the city release, Namey graduated from Wilkes College in 1968 and also received a master of fine arts degree from Marywood University. He was heavily involved with the South Wilkes-Barre Urban Renewal Committee in the wake of the 1972 Agnes Flood.
Leighton credited Namey with consolidating the Department of Public Works and Recreation Departments into a new facility on Conyngham Avenue that still is used today; starting the city garbage bag program; modernizing the downtown streetscape and leaving behind a budget surplus when he left office in 1996.
Leighton said Namey retired from elected office, but he did not retire from service to the community. He remained an integral part of various community organizations such as the United Way of Wyoming Valley, Wilkes University and the F.M. Kirby Center to name a few.
“I had the privilege to work with Mayor Namey during my first term on city council,” Leighton said. “He was a sincere and forthright leader that truly made a difference in Wilkes-Barre. He leaves behind a legacy of service to his community and devotion to his friends and family.”
A 1963 Meyers High School graduate, he was a standout athlete at Meyers, playing halfback on the football team and running track. He also played football at Wilkes.
Namey retired in 2007 from the then-West Side Area Vocational-Technical School, where he served as principal.
Namey’s wife, the former Juanita Vincent, and his two daughters, Falzone, 48, of Wilkes-Barre, and Tara Namey, 41, of Lansdale, remembered him as a man whose family came first, and then his community.
They said Namey loved to attend athletic events that his grandchildren participated in, such as football, baseball, field hockey and golf. Namey leaves seven grandchildren — Samuel, Richard, Alesha and Lee Falzone, and Kadar, Elia and Kaden Namey.
“He loved the outdoors,” Angela said. “And he loved watching his grandchildren grow up. After us, he was dedicated to the city.”
Tara said what struck her the most about her father was how he connected with everybody.
“There was just something about him that touched people,” she said. “He genuinely cared about people.”
Drew Mamary of the Mamary-Durkin Funeral Home is handling the arrangements for Namey’s services. Mamary said the viewing and funeral service will be at St. Mary’s Syrian Orthodox Church, 905 S. Main St. The viewing will be Friday evening at the church and the funeral will be Saturday at a time to be announced.