MADEIRA BEACH - Born and raised in Winter Haven, Fla., Eddie Lee
was the product of what he
describes as a "solid middle-class" upbringing.
As captain of the high school swim team and a member of the Key Club
showed promise as both an athlete and a leader.
After high school, Lee
served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps
On a tour of duty in Southeast Asia, Lee
spent more time in Thailand than in Vietnam and saw virtually no combat.
Shortly thereafter Lee
first wife and the couple had a son.
The family moved to Alabama where Lee began working in construction after his enlistment ended.
eventually started his
own business and found time to volunteer at a local chapter of the Jaycees.
community involvement caught the eye of the governor, who named Lee
"Outstanding Young Man in Birmingham, Alabama."
It was around this time, Lee
says, that his
social drinking was becoming less and less social.
A number of drunk driving arrests were the first indicators of trouble, but Lee's failure to heed the warning signs led to divorce.
gave up his
business and went to work for "other people" for a period of 10 to 12 years as a "functioning alcoholic."
"I was very resilient there for awhile," Lee
says, "I had about a five-year span in there where I didn't do any drinking.
I didn't go to treatment or anything, I would just stop on my own.
spiraled through a cycle of heavy bouts of drinking interspersed with increasingly shorter periods of sobriety for several years in the late 1970s.
During one of these interludes, he
secured a job as a manufacturer's rep, was remarried, and enrolled at the University of Alabama
After a second divorce, Lee
moved to Pinellas County.
enjoyed another five-year period of employment as a cook on a seagoing tugboat.
But time and time again, Lee's drinking caught up with him.
missed an assignment due to drinking and was fired.
"It went downhill pretty quick and before I knew it, I was on the streets," he
For a period of about five years, arrests for trespassing, petty theft and alcohol-related incidents preceded failed attempts at recovery in treatment centers, halfway houses and similar programs.
recalled that period of his
life as being more or less typical of what any homeless individual might deal with.
"The culture of living on the streets is something I can't imagine anybody actually enjoying," he
"But I can imagine, because I did it myself, people adapting to the lifestyle."
mentioned a social hierarchy that exists in the homeless community, a pecking order based on intellect.
mostly tried to distance himself from the subculture of homelessness whenever possible, to avoid the attention brought on by fights, police confrontations, and whatever unforeseen drama might unfold when homeless people assembled in the open.
"I was a loner on the streets.
I drank with anybody I could drink with but when it came time to nestle down for the night, I would have my own spot someplace," Lee
"I could control my environment a little better if
I stayed by myself."
said, was often the restroom of a 24-hour laundromat or tucked in the sea oats between sand dunes on the beach.
For about six months, Lee
slept in the front seat of a box truck being used for storage behind a restaurant, while doing odd jobs for the owner.
It was during this time that the events that led to his
recovery were put into motion.
woke one morning and, with the little money he
had, bought a six-pack of beer.
Jaundiced and severely underweight, Lee
appealed to the court to be sent to a longterm treatment center in Tarpon Springs, expecting nothing more than being given a comfortable bed, warm meals, and medical
attention - until he
was well enough to return to the streets.
"You can milk that system for weeks," he
saw something in me that I didn't see in myself," Lee
just wouldn't give up on me.
coached me through some things and didn't try to push me. All of a sudden, one day, it was like the scales came off."
"It became clear to me that everything was going to be alright," Lee
said, recalling an epiphany he
had while on a spiritual retreat four months into sobriety.
"I couldn't tell you why, because I had no job, no prospects for a job or a place to go or anything.
I had no exit plan.
I just knew I was going to be okay.
I just knew it."
Lee enrolled in management and design courses at a community college and was hired at a job fair as a night supervisor on an airport renovation project, which led to positions with construction projects all over Florida.
returned to Pinellas County and became actively involved in his
Madeira Beach community.
He was invited to join Kiwanis of Gulf Beaches and eventually became club president.
At his first meeting as president, Lee
plan to build a baseball field for Miracle League of Gulf Beaches
, a baseball league for children with special needs.
"Seventeen months later we'd raised $335,000 and they were playing ball."
has become my passion," Lee
"Had someone set me down a year or two into my sobriety and said, 'Look ten or twelve years down the road and write down the best-case scenario of what your life will be like,' I would have short-changed myself."
still attends recovery programs and support meetings.
On a regular basis, he
makes time to work with alcoholics undergoing treatment.
In July, after eight years of involvement in the club, Lee was elected Florida district treasurer of Kiwanis International.
When asked if such a position might be a bit heady for a guy who once slept in the cab of a truck, Lee
replied, "I'm no further away from a drink today than I was the first 24 hours that I got sober, but I think it's fair to say that, at this point in my life, it is less likely that I will drink - today.