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Georgia Lee McElhaney

Jan 8, 2016

Georgia Lee McElhaney (Gee Lee), Poet Laureate of Shepherdstown, passed away on Jan. 4, 2016 at Hospice By The Sea in Boca Raton, Florida.

Born in Martinsburg, Jan. 15, 1934, she was the only daughter of George and May Lee (Alexander) Engle.

Gee Lee grew up in Greenwich Village, New York City, graduating from Straubenmuller Textile High School in 1952. She first came to Shepherdstown in 1952 as a Shepherd College freshman, leaving one semester shy of getting her diploma when she eloped with James McElhaney in 1956.

For 10 years, she and Jim travelled from one university town to another while Jim, an English professor, climbed the academic ladder. She returned to Shepherdstown in 1966 as a young widow with a nine-year-old daughter. In 1968, Gee Lee co-founded The Bookend, a popular Shepherdstown bookstore and community gathering place. The store served as the genesis of the 50-member Bookend Poets which she also co-founded and which is still in existence today long after The Bookend closed its doors.

A tireless and often forceful advocate for Shepherdstown and its citizens, Gee Lee was elected to the Town Council in the mid 1970s. Later, she served as a member and then president of the Shepherdstown Planning Commission. During her stewardship, the commission enacted the first comprehensive zoning plan for Shepherdstown. Later she served as director of the Shepherdstown Housing Authority, overseeing the renovations of numerous houses and parks in Shepherdstown.

In addition to her civic work, Gee Lee was a prolific poet and editor. She was an editor of Pivot, a well- regarded national poetry magazine and edited “In Good Company,” the monthly Shepherdstown Chronicle poetry column that nurtured the creative talents of many young local poets. On the occasion of Shepherdstown’s 250th anniversary celebration, in 2012, Gee Lee penned the commemorative poem, “Thomas Shepherd Walks at Midnight,” and she and fellow poet Ed Zahniser co-edited the anthology, In Good Company: Poets Celebrate Shepherdstown’s 250th Anniversary. Gee Lee’s poems are widely published and anthologized in, among others, Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Wild Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of West Virginia Poetry and Doubleday’s A Controversy of Poets. For her poem “The Judas Tree,” she was awarded an Artist in the Community Grant from The Jefferson County Arts Council and WV Arts and Humanities Commission. From 1979-2000, she was a contributing editor for the bimonthly magazine of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Gee Lee is survived by her daughter, Christy, and son-in-law, Mark Sunshine, of Boca Raton; her grandsons, James Sunshine, of Washington D.C. and Ryan Sunshine, of Boca Raton; and granddaughter Madison Sunshine, also of Boca Raton, as well as many much-loved cousins and long-time friends.

Visitation will be from 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Brown’s Funeral Home at 327 W King St, Martinsburg, on Friday, Jan. 8. Services will be at the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, 100 W Washington St, Shepherdstown, at noon on Saturday, Jan. 9, with interment to follow at Rose Hill Cemetery, 600 S Potomac St, Hagerstown.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.