LEE, J. BRACKEN
J. Bracken Lee
In a vigorous defense of his fiscal conservatism as governor of Utah,
J. Bracken Lee once advised, "Do it honestly, do the best you know
how, and let 'em holler!" That statement accurately portrays not only
his forceful personality but also the philosophy of government that made
him one of the few genuine mavericks in American political history.
J. Bracken Lee was born in Price, Utah, on 7 January 1899, a son of Arthur
and Ida May Leiter Lee. Although Lee's ancestors on both sides were active
in the Mormon Church, his father was not, and Lee also never belonged to
The Lee family moved to Fruita, Colorado, when Lee was five years old. He
attended school there, completing the eighth grade before the family returned
to Price. Lee attended Carbon County High School but did not graduate; instead,
two months prior to graduation, he enlisted in the army when World War I
broke out in April 1917. He served until March 1919, emerging with the rank
of sergeant. After leaving the service, he worked for several months as
a postal clerk before joining his father in the insurance and real estate
business, eventually becoming manager and owner of the agency.
In 1920 he married Nellie Pace, and they had a daughter, Helen. After two
years of marriage his wife became seriously ill with pneumonia, then with
Hodgkin's disease, which took her life in 1926. In 1928 Lee married Margaret
Draper from Wellington, Utah, and they became parents of three children,
a daughter, Jon, and sons James and Richard.
In addition to managing his insurance business, Lee became a registered
Republican, a 32nd-degree Mason, an Elk, and a Legionnaire. By 1931 he had
become so involved in Price politics that he ran for mayor; however, he
was swamped. He ran again in 1935, winning by two votes. He was elected
to five additional two-year terms for a total of twelve years in office.
Lee unsuccessfully sought the governorship of Utah in 1940 and 1944; in
1948, however, he was elected, defeating Governor Herbert B. Maw. From his
earliest days in politics, Lee was charismatic, independent, supremely self-confident,
and candid. He became arguably the most colorful and controversial politician
in Utah history, and had perhaps a greater impact on the state and nation
than any Utah figure since Brigham Young.
Lee served two terms as governor (1949-57), three terms as mayor of Salt
Lake City (1960-72), and seemed to be a perennial candidate for governor
and senator as well as a forceful spokesman for conservatism. He was one
of the few Utah governors to be nationally known, especially for his fiscal
conservatism and his vociferous opposition to income tax, foreign aid, and
the United Nations. His candor and gift for self-expression were immediately
reminiscent of Harry S Truman. Due to a penchant for invective and personal
confrontation, Lee probably made more enemies than any other Utah politician.
Although his record as mayor of Price was somewhat controversial, as governor
he gained immediate respectability for his emphasis on integrity and economy.
His principal target for economy was education, however, and he soon made
an enemy of almost every educator in the state. On balance, his healthy
relationship with the Mormon Church saved him in large part from the educators'
Without question, Lee made his greatest contribution as mayor of Salt Lake
City. His political maturity generally served the city well during his twelve
years, which were known for fiscal stability and capital improvements. Even
though his principles remained constant, he was more temperate in his approach
and thus was more effective during his final years in office.
See: Dennis L. Lythgoe, Let `Em Holler: A Political Biography of J. Bracken
Dennis L. Lythgoe