16542 Philip F.C. Garbutt: remembering 5576 Len Lee

Brigadier-General  16542 Philip F.C. Garbutt, OMM, MSM, CD – Director General Air Force Development – Royal Canadian Air Force had the pleasure of serving with 5576 Leonard Lee when he was Honorary Colonel of 14 Air Maintenance Squadron between 2007-2009.

Following are personal stories and photos he passes on:

“I had the privilege of Commanding 14 Air Maintenance Squadron in Greenwood, Nova Scotia – located in the expansive and fragrant Annapolis Valley – between the summer of 2007 and 2009.   Shortly after taking Command one of my first tasks was to find a new Honorary Colonel for the Squadron.  The trend at the time was to lean toward a famous Canadian celebrity – rock stars and comedians were quite popular – but I knew from some base of experience that superstars came with some “interesting baggage” and that the very best Honoraries were accomplished Canadian entrepreneurs and masters of industry who could make a personal connection between the Squadron and the broader Canadian community.

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I gave my staff this direction and we began our search; a few weeks later the team produced a short list of extraordinary Canadians… to my delight, there wasn’t a musician or late-night talk show host on the list… and Leonard Lee was at the top of the page.

Of course, I had heard of Lee Valley but I never had the pleasure of meeting or talking to Leonard before that day.   So I called him from my office that evening and we talked for nearly two hours… I remember watching the sun set from my office window and thinking that this is a conversation I will never forget.   He shared his stories of his early days at Royal Roads – common ground for the two of us as I had graduated from Roads and met and married my wife‎ on the college grounds – and then he told me, with considerable trepidation about his reluctant departure from Royal Military College Kingston less than two years later.

As he shared his experiences of creating and building Lee Valley and Veritas ‎it became clear that there was never a more perfect fit for our highly specialized engineering and technical Squadron than Leonard.   I also got the impression that becoming an Air Force Honorary could be a cathartic experience for Leonard – a chance to wash away years of frustration of having ended a promising Air Force career far too early.  I offered him the position and he accepted with his trademark enthusiasm and class.

A few months later Leonard joined us at 14 Wing Greenwood for the investiture ceremony.‎ Touring him about the Squadron was like watching a kid in a candy store; he was so engaged with the technicians particularly when we got down into the Aircraft Structures Division where he was truly in his element; we extended the tour by nearly an hour and almost missed his familiarization flight as Leonard shared stories with the techs, experimented with the tools and equipment and began to build his legend within the Squadron.  Unbeknownst to me, the vast majority of engineers and technicians in the Squadron were huge Lee Valley fans; many had past editions of Lee Valley magazines and catalogues and were asking for signatures and selfies. That first day, touring Leonard about the Squadron, it became clear that I had absolutely failed in my attempt to avoid getting a celebrity as Honorary Colonel!  To the Air Men and Women of the 14 Air Maintenance Squadron he was a rock star… simply a giant.

We invested Leonard as our Honorary the next morning in front of a capacity – standing room only – crowd at the Annapolis Valley All-Ranks Mess.  His legend and celebrity amongst the troops only grew from that day forward.

I’ll never forget the ride back to Halifax after the ceremony.  We remained in uniform and Leonard asked if we could leave a bit early in order to visit his new store located just outside of Halifax at the Bayers Lake Outlet. And so we did.

When we arrived at the Lee Valley store, Leonard walked in – looking resplendent in his Air Force tunic – and approached the customer service desk and asked if he could speak to the manager.  The polite young lady behind the desk replied yes, but asked Leonard for his Lee Valley “customer number” in order to better serve him.  Leonard’s tight smile suppressed a chuckle as he answered: Yes, my Lee Valley customer number is 00000001.  I’ll never forget the look of momentary confusion, followed by realization and terror and then followed by relief as the young girl processed Leonard’s response and then was almost instantly rescued by the store manager who came out from the back room to greet Leonard.  I then watched the master at work as he greeted and spoke to every one of the store employees and every customer in the store.  As much as I had avoided it, I was in the presence of a Canadian rock star… and I loved every minute of it.

I had the pleasure of serving with Leonard for another 18 months before I changed Command in the summer of 2009.  We had some wonderful times together, but I will never forget those special few days when we first brought Mr. Lee to the Valley.

Sincerely,

Phil

Brigadier-General 16542 Philip F.C. Garbutt, OMM, MSM, CD

Director General Air Force Development – Royal Canadian Air Force