Don Lee is retiring September 29 as Deputy Director of General Services. It’s been an interesting career progression for a man who started out as a custodian 35 years ago.
“My dad always told me never settle,” Don recalls. “I didn’t.”
After graduating from Matoaca High in 1984, he bounced from job to job before taking an entry level position as a custodian for Chesterfield County Public Schools. His father Harry, who worked for VDOT for many years, had touted the value of a steady government job with good benefits and health insurance.
Custodian work wasn’t exactly the field he was looking to break into. He was interested in automobile repair and had taken auto technician classes at Chesterfield Technical Center. But his upbringing by two loving parents on a small family farm in rural Chesterfield had taught him some valuable lessons that he still applies in his life, such as:
- “Always look for opportunities to make yourself better.”
- “Always work hard, and you will have value to your employer.”
Don worked hard as a custodian for more than four years before an opportunity presented itself for another entry-level position, this one in Chesterfield’s school bus shop.
“I became a lot attendant,” he recalls with a laugh. “That means I fueled all the school buses on the lot and checked their oil. I would always tell people I had a background in fuel management.”
That opportunity led to others. When budgets got tight and a temporary technician position arose, Don took it “just to get my foot in the door.” He picked up his toolbox and learned how to be a school bus mechanic.
“I have done a lot of listening and had a lot of mentoring throughout my career,” Don says. “I always tried to take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself.”
“That attitude goes a long way,” he believes. “If you find someone who takes that kind of attitude, that’s someone you want to keep.”
“Ten years in I got this idea I wanted to be a superintendent,” he continued. “My third time trying for the job was the charm. It was for fire trucks, dump trucks, heavy equipment like that. I had no experience in those things. But I was able to learn it.”
When the position of Fleet Manager for General Services became available in Hanover in 2015, Don jumped at it, even though he knew nothing of Hanover.
“I didn’t know anyone in Hanover County except (Director) Marvin (Fletcher), and I knew Marvin well enough to say hi at conferences,” he says.
It took him only one day to find that he had made a good choice.
“That first day I walked through the back door everyone welcomed me,” he recalls. “It was like, ‘wow, I’ve found a home.”
What he came to love about working for Hanover County government wasn’t just the friendliness of his co-workers, but their attitudes.
“The eagerness to change what they were doing if there was a better way,” he explains. “It’s not that what they were doing was wrong, but equipment was changing, and they were willing to look at new ideas, new ways of doing business.”
Don was promoted to Deputy Director of General Services in May 2020.
Though he is retiring from Hanover County, he still loves the people and the work, but he’s tired of his daily hour-long (each way) commute on I-95.
“I’ve got 35 years,” he says. “It’s time for a change.”
He anticipates getting a job in the private sector, non-management, a few miles from his home, where he can spend more time with his wife Darlean. The Lees have two grown children, Donte and Dione, and five grandchildren.
He will be missed, says his boss, General Services Director Chip England.
“Don has been a true gift to our department and the County,” England says. “He has been just the right person, in the right place, at the right time to help us keep moving forward in the right way. You never left a meeting or conversation with Don without being inspired and uplifted. While he will be greatly missed, his positive impact will continue to ripple throughout the organization.”