Marion Thomas Lee, was born during 1903 in Bloomington, Ohio where he attended integrated schools and graduated from high school following World War I wherein three of his older brothers had been conscripted to serve in France on behalf of the Allied cause as manual laborers leased to French government. The war changed his family's aspirations for a better life in Ohio.
The war stripped his father of sons as skilled drivers and handlers for a struggling Lee owned livery business in an industry that Lee men dating back to before the Civil War had always performed well. The newly formed Ohio Public Utility Commission and the State's governor had assured White livery business owners they would not issue licenses to African-Americans in the competition for hauling contracts. And bankers likewise were not available for loans to non-White competitors to buy highway trucks and trailers.
At an early age he learned the hard work and toil of poor dirt farmers in a era when famed financier J.P. Morgan merged several firms together to form the gigantic U.S. Steel Corporation, headquartered in Pittsburgh with many tens of thousands of jobs, ... but restricted African-American employees to the lowest levels of unskilled labor undesired by White employees.
As a young man of far above average intelligence, Marion had long ago taught himself to master his mother's violin lessons and exhibited mechanical abilities (including the drawing of maps) that would have impressed his ancestor Thomas Jefferson. A prolific reader since childhood, he read daily to improve his knowledge and vocabulary about the world into which he was born. He knew his ancestry at both Mount Vernon and Monticello where great and powerful men of means valued topographic skills. Blessed with superb analytical abilities, he determined to seek a job that would afford him opportunities to be more than unskilled labor in the mills and mines flourishing in the Pittsburgh region.
In his own words, "I put on a shirt and tie and applied for a job at Gulf Oil Company that was advertised in the newspaper. I impressed them that I could help make and distribute maps for their tourist bureau, and was the first colored man they ever hired other than for positions as janitors. I worked that job for 50 years and never missed a day's work."
Determined to be successful in supporting his family, he planned and perfected a skill that was not unionized to keep him out, ... house painting which he mastered to include mixing his own paint coatings. And, on weekends and vacations he painted the houses of his favorite customers, ... the top executives at Gulf Oil Company.
He used the extra money to pay for a two story 14 room house on Monticello Street, Pittsburgh and to educate his three daughters and son with college and graduate degrees.
And, less there be any doubt about it, he was a beneficiary of early affirmative action that spared him the legacy of conscription in World War I because he was too young and World II due to his being married with two or more children.
Another reason perhaps that he was chosen by "the frozen chosen" Episcopalian executives working for Andrew Mellon the principal owner of Gulf was because, ... he also was born into a family of members of Republican Party and Civil War services during the Age of Lincoln. The great Scots and Scotch-Irish titans like Carnegie, Frick and Mellon shared a common view in their class that Pittsburgh belonged to them and they could hire or fire whoever crossed their paths. Hiring Marion Lee was affirmative action!
Gulf Oil was a major global oil company from the 1900s to the 1980s. The eighth-largest American manufacturing company in 1941 and the ninth-largest in 1979, Gulf Oil was one of the so-called Seven Sisters oil companies. Gulf was one of the chief instruments of the legendary Mellon fortune; both Gulf and Mellon Bank had their headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Though never acknowledged by Marion Thomas Lee, his fascination in researching and mastering the details of American geography and information needs were perhaps traits inherited from Thomas Jefferson, ... combined with the clearly adventurous spirit of Lee men like his father who loved to travel. He worked tirelessly to gain details that would help make Gulf maps the wonderful road guide they became long before interstate travelers routinely expected to find such helpful information.
Family first, last and always was the essence of what inspired Thomas Marion Lee to such an extent that his marriage to Dudleen Lowry was always a family affair linking him further into the web of cousins, in-laws, offspring and siblings making his life one of being useful. He loved and treated his wife's siblings and offspring as he viewed his own, ... a personal commitment and responsibility toward them.
His many skills ranging from that of carpenter, farmer and even hunter were always pursued with the intended outcome of helping others including the hunting club he joined wherein the wild game captured was normally prepared and given to family members and neighbors.
The only pure selfish action on his part would seemingly have been when he played the violin in a room by himself for obvious self enjoyment. His beloved wife preceded him in death and they are buried together in Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh. By the time of death in 1984, he had devoted his life to being helpful and useful to a cause greater than himself.