E. Denise Lee

City Council legend E. Denise Lee dies at 71

Published on August 30, 2023 at 5:12 pm

Former City Councilwoman E. Denise Lee, a fixture on the Northside for decades, has died, according to city officials and friends.

Lee, 71, represented her community on the Jacksonville City Council for 24 years. She also served in the Florida House of Representatives and on the Civil Service Board.

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The cause and time of death have not been released.

Tributes flowed in Wednesday for a Jacksonville native who represented former council District 11 from 1983 to 1987, then District 8 from then through 1999 and from 2007 to 2015, according to her City Council biography. She represented District 15 in the Florida House from 1998 to 2000.

Current City Councilman Matt Carlucci, who worked with Lee over the years, said they would often laugh at old times. He called her death “heartbreaking.”

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“She was a great servant to Jacksonville and to her constituents and will be remembered and missed,” Carlucci said Wednesday in a Facebook post. “Denise was a force of nature. She was very direct and forthright in what she believed. She could make you mad and make you laugh all at the same time, and most of all she was a very sweet soul. I will miss her very much.”

Mayor Donna Deegan said Lee “embodied what it means to be a public servant.”

“She was a relentless fighter for what was best for the city,” Deegan said in a statement. “The positive legacy of her work can be felt throughout all of Jacksonville. Our city family is lifting prayers to her loved ones.”

Lee was born June 30, 1952. Her father, the late John Henry Lee, served in World War II before a 30-year carer at Seaboard Coastline Rail System. Her mother, the former Leanora Daniels, was a public schoolteacher who supported the local teachers union.

While attending Florida A&M University, Lee worked on or managed several election campaigns for Northeast Florida Democratic candidates. She also worked on campaigns for Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as well as Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold and Florida state Sen. Arnette Girardeau among others.

After managing campaigns, Lee was appointed in 1982 to fill the Jacksonville City Council seat left open by the death of Sallye Mathis.

Longtime City Hall aide Mike Tolbert wrote that his heart is heavy at the news of Lee’s death. In a post on Facebook, he called her a “warrior for good, someone unafraid of a fight, always accepting of a challenge.”

City Council President Ron Salem said he often visited with Lee and found her counsel “invaluable” as they talked about the issues of her day and her “fearless leadership.”

“Her tenacity as a fighter for District 8 was beyond measure,” Salem wrote. “She had an unmatched auditory ability to get her district’s needs met, and those of us watching her were in awe of all she was able to accomplish.”

Former Mayor Lenny Curry said Lee was a tireless public servant whose commitment to the community never wavered. Her family roots run deep in the city and her legacy will live on, he said. 

Lakesha Burton, retired assistant police chief and Deegan’s new director of community initiatives, called Lee a dedicated public servant.

“She meant what she said and said what she meant,” Burton wrote. “Her legacy will have an infinite positive ripple effect in the lives of so many for years to come. Thank you for your service, example and love.” 

And Audrey Gibson, a Democratic former state lawmaker, said Lee’s death stunned her. Lee went to her church, St. Paul AME, and their families have known each other for years.

“Whether one agreed with her or not, Denise was unpretentious,” Gibson wrote. “If you missed it, she had a sense of humor, understood the history of the community she cared deeply about, and commanded due respect.”

No information is available yet about memorial arrangements.

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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