Lee Austin Otterson, 98, passed away peacefully on December 22, 2015 in Palo Alto. He was a beloved patriarch who lived an incredibly rich life full of love, family, devoted friends, innovation, prosperity and world adventure.
Lee was born on February 8, 1917, in Glenn County to Bert Harvey Otterson and Dorothy Gaines (LeValley) Otterson. His great-great grandfather, James Otterson, built the first gold rush hotel in 1853 in what was later to become Palo Alto. Lee was the second oldest of nine children raised on a farm and was a hard worker from a young age. He graduated cum laude with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 1939, which would remain dear to his heart throughout his life, and he supported later generations of inventive engineers and scientist by endowing a professorship to the university.
Early in 1941, Lee volunteered for military service in the Army Air Corps, earning his wings and serving as a flight instructor. His lifetime love of lying inspired him to pilot his PBY plane around the world in 1977 and continue flying the skies until age 87. Lee’s love of adventures resulted in him being very active in Scouts (Eagle), sailing, shooting, fishing, and travel throughout the world (174 countries including Antarctica at age 90).
On May 16, 1943, Lee married Elanor Schundler of Madison, New Jersey. They had three children; Dorothy (Didi), Bert, and Helen. Lee always said his children gave him such joy.
After his military service, Lee engaged actively in farming and simultaneously co-founded a manufacturing company. This was the first of many companies he started that grew to be very successful. Lee’s companies have run the range from engineering, electronics, manufacturing, mobile communications, farming, food processing, warehouse and distribution, restaurant development and industrial real estate. Lee had special relationships with all the people worked with throughout his career. There are currently over 450 full time employees on Lee’s industrial park, Colusa Industrial Properties.
Lee married Barbara Whitmore of Ceres, California in 1956. They traveled extensively together and shared many loving memories until her death in 1982. In 1984, Lee married Beverly Dixie Millie of Long Beach with whom he shared a love of traveling, skiing, and golf until her death in 2009, after moving to Palo Alto Classic Residence several years earlier.
Although he could be quiet, Lee was big in many ways; big in stature, in his forward-thinking vision, adventuring spirit, and support for others.
His patience and determination in nurturing his big visions paid off and drew the respect and admiration of all who knew him. He helped individuals, families, businesses, and communities thrive. He was curious about life and passed this gift of curiosity on to his extended family. Lee was kind, generous, quick witted, always with a tinkle in his eye, and had a distinctive big smile, which he shared easily. There was a wink at the ready, especially for his grand children and great grandchildren, and he greatly enjoyed serenading others with his favorite songs in his characteristic deep booming voice.
Lee, will be remembered for his enduring spirit, how he lived, and how he enriched so many lives as a beloved father, grandfather, great grandfather, husband, friend, engineer, farmer, entrepreneur, and life artist.
In honor of Lee, feel free to wink, break out into song, or cheer on someone who shares a big vision wiht you. Plan your next big adventure or share a thick strawberry milkshake with someone you love. We love you Lee.
Lee is predeceased by his siblings Louise Otterson Franzen, Lucile Otterson Danielson, Wayne Otterson and Lila Otterson Benjamin Robinson.
He will be celebrated and deeply missed by his large and loving family: his siblings, Dorothy Otterson Sexsmith, Amy Otterson Phelps, Nina Otterson Arbois, and Donald Otterson; his children Dorothy (Didi) Otterson Flint, Bert Otterson, and Helen Otterson Rodde; his grandchildren Brooke Otterson, Dana Otterson, Tara Otterson Church, Heather Rodde Akuiyibo, Brian Rodde, Tyler Rodde, and Ashely Rodde and his great grandchildren Joshua, Zoe, Elizabeth, Austin, Owen, and Alexa.
Memorial donations may be made to your local Boy Scouts: www.aplacetogive.scouting.org. ■