Fort Langley’s Bill Lee could sell almost anything to anyone, and he did it with a smile.
Lee, who passed away at 81, during a COVID-19 outbreak at Langley Lodge on May 20, is remembered fondly by his family and his many, many friends.
Daughter Alison Mockett tells a story about the day Lee was auctioning off an antique television at his Langley business, Central Auction on the Langley Bypass, that Lee owned and operated for 43 years.
“When he asked the boys to switch it on, it blew up,” Alison recalled.
Her unflappable father simply kept going, smiling.
“He carried on as though nothing was wrong.”
And he managed to sell the non-functioning set.
“Only because people laughed,” Alison explained.
“He could sell anything.”
His favourite saying was “take it now, or it’s gone.”
One time, Lee sold his own tie at a charity auction.
“He took it off and said, ‘who wants it?’ Alison told the Langley Advance Times.
And, as was almost always the case, Lee found a buyer.
It was another instance of his zest for life and irrepressible sense of humour.
One of Alison’s fondest childhood memories is driving around with her father in a truck while he picked up furniture for his store.
At the time, Central Auction was the only one of its kind in Langley, and the Monday auctions were a popular destination.
His children worked at the auction house, and some of their significant others did, too,
“We used to call it ‘Bill’s secondary school’,” Alison observed.
Alison’s boyfriend at the time, a young man named Richard, also spent some time working at the auction house, but it didn’t quite suit him.
“He said it was chaotic,” Alison recalled.
Richard gave up the job, but not Alison. The two have been married for more than 21 years.
In the midst of all that chaos, Bill was the calm at the heart of the storm, conducting auctions without fast-paced patter, opting for a more dignified, British approach that often produced laughter .
“He had a very dry sense of humour,” Alison said.
She described her father as a proud Englishman who became a Canadian citizen but never lost his affection for his home country.
Born in Romford, England, Lee was an engineer when he came out to B.C. in 1971, saw Fort Langley and decided he was never going back.
Lee got into the auction business by importing antiques from Belgium and Liverpool.
Many of the people who bought antiques from him went on to open antique shops in Fort Langley, Alison recalled.
He is also remembered for his years of commitment to the Rotary Club of Langley.
He was an avid collector of cigarette ad cards, devoting an entire room to his collection.
By the time he was admitted to Langley Lodge, which specializes in caring for people with dementia, Alison describes her father as “confused” and requiring special care.
He is not just a number, not just one of the victims of the worst COVID-19 outbreak to date in B.C. as far as his family is concerned. He was a father, a grandfather and uncle who will be deeply missed.
Alison said Lee’s family is grateful to the staff of the Fraser Health Authority, and the Langley Lodge, for their care and compassion.
“They did everything they could,” Alison said.
“They were wonderful.”
Bill (W.K.) William Knowles Lee is survived by his wife Mags, children Becky, Alison, Cathryn and Mark along with sons-in-law Guy and Richard and eight grandchildren, Emma, Matthew, Eddie, Joshua, Jaydn, Deklan, Will, Emily, Ellie and Kate.
A celebration of his life will be held when gatherings are permitted.
As of Monday, June 8, one staffer at Langley Lodge had tested positive for COVID-19, but the facility reported no new cases among residents, and no new fatalities, in an update posted to the facility website.