Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee, who served Precinct One for 30 years, passed away January 3rd, 2016. He was 66.
Lee grew up in Houston’s Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens, where he resided at the time of his death in his childhood homestead. Working with prominent community leaders such as the late U.S. Rep. Mickey Leland, Lee became politically active on issues such as health care and social programs.
His political career started in 1979, when he was elected as a Texas Representative for District 142, a position he held for five years. He was elected in 1984 as Harris County’s first African-American commissioner and took office in 1985.
As commissioner, Lee’s primary job was building and maintaining roads, bridges and parks. However, since most of his precinct is in Houston’s inner-city neighborhoods, he expanded his role to provide social services, education, recreation and health assistance for his constituents, especially youth and seniors. He built those programs by establishing partnerships with other governmental entities, health-care agencies, nonprofits and other organizations.
In 1986, Lee started a Summer Youth Program that later grew into the Harris County Precinct One Street Olympics.
Over the years, the Street Olympics developed into a network of recreational, educational and health programs that include the Harris County Aquatics Program (HCAP), the Northeast Adolescent Program (NEAP), the Bright Futures Fair and the Discovery Camp. Street Olympics now serves thousands of youth annually.
In addition to the Street Olympics, Lee also established after-school and summer programs at three Precinct One community centers.
Lee’s Seniors Program, which operates at seven Precinct One centers, offers hundreds of senior citizens a variety of services that include health and fitness, arts and crafts, drama, gardening and tours.
El Franco Lee was born on Jan. 30, 1949, in Houston to Selma A. and Robert E. Lee. He attended youth programs at Julia C. Hester House, which played a pivotal part in his early development and appreciation for fitness. He graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School, where he was a member of the swim team (freestyle and butterfly) and track and field squad (100 meters, 200 meters and pole vault.)
Lee attended San Jacinto Junior College on a gymnastic scholarship. He later received a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Southern University (TSU). He completed postgraduate studies at TSU School of Public Affairs and University of Houston School of Engineering.
He married his high school sweetheart, Ethel Kaye Kingsberry, and they have two children, Franchelle Lee Stewart and El Franco Lee II.