As a lumber company executive, Kenneth Gee was so down-to-earth that when he spoke with employees not everyone guessed how high he was on the corporate ladder.
In the early 1970s, soon after starting work at L. Grossman and Sons, he visited the lumber company’s New England stores. “They knew he was an executive of some sort,” said his wife, Barbara, but they didn’t realize his job was near the top.
At the end of a day spent talking with customers and employees at one store, Mr. Gee asked the manager what else he could do. “There’s a broom over there,” the manager replied.
Mr. Gee called his wife later to say that he just grabbed the broom and started sweeping. “He didn’t want them to say, ‘Ken Gee did a lousy job cleaning up our store,’ ” his wife recalled.
Mr. Gee, who was also a business consultant for many years, died Nov. 14 in a hospice facility in Sandwich of complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 79 and lived in Marion.
Bob Harrow of Boca Raton, Fla., who formerly was general manager of Grossman’s, recalled that Mr. Gee “had a great deal of insight into judging people’s abilities, so I made him my right-hand man.”
Mr. Gee “helped me with business strategies and business plans and building the organization,” Harrow said. “. . . I trusted his judgment in any situation.”
Despite such talents, Mr. Gee was modest, Harrow said. “You wouldn’t see his true ability unless you got to know him well.”
A longtime friend, David Fox of Burr Ridge, Ill., called Mr. Gee “fun-loving, inquisitive, thoughtful.”
“Kenny was a very unassuming person,” Fox said. “He was very easy to get along with and was not someone who put on any airs.”
In conversations, Fox said, Mr. Gee always wanted to know what was new in the other person’s life and asked questions in ways that made it clear he really wanted to hear the answer.
“One of his biggest supporters was the guy who cut his lawn,” said Mr. Gee’s son, Clark of Marion.
The youngest of four children, Kenneth A. Gee was born and grew up on Chicago’s South Side. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., where he studied business and was president of the Chi Psi fraternity’s Epsilon Delta chapter.
As a junior, he met Barbara Bullock at a freshman mixer on her first day at school.
“He walked me home; I was so nervous I couldn’t really get his name,” she recalled, laughing. He called the next day, and they started dating. They married in 1957.
After graduating from Northwestern with a bachelor’s degree, Mr. Gee was drafted into the US Army, which stationed him at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. When he returned to Illinois, he began working as a manager of a local bank that had recruited him before he graduated from Northwestern.
Three years later, an uncle asked Mr. Gee to work for the family lumber company, where he rose to become corporate president. After helping the family business expand, Mr. Gee accepted a job offer in 1971 from L. Grossman and Sons.
The Gees initially lived in Wellesley Hills and spent summer vacations in Marion. In the mid-1970s, they moved to Marion.
Over the years, Clark said, Mr. Gee and his wife sampled city life by keeping apartments in Boston and Paris.
Mr. Gee left Grossman’s lumber after about 20 years. Deciding that he was done with executive jobs, Mr. Gee became a consultant for entrepreneurs. His wife said all types of people sought his advice, from a man who was making a new camera to another who imported Dutch tulip bulbs.
He enjoyed the work tremendously, in large part because he got to meet people and help them, his wife said. Mr. Gee kept working as a consultant until he started developing Parkinson’s disease a few years ago.
A golfer since his teen years, Mr. Gee particularly enjoyed being part of a group of men age 50 and over at the Kittansett Club in Marion who called themselves the Wobblers, his wife said.
For about 20 years, Mr. Gee and Clark played tennis almost every Sunday morning. In the early 1990s, Mr. Gee served on the board of the Sippican Tennis Club in Marion.
“He was very well respected in the community,” said Chick Renfrew, manager and head tennis professional at the club.
Since their honeymoon in Vienna, Mr. Gee and his wife had shared a passion for classical music, and he could recount details about numerous compositions. Before dinner each night, Clark recalled, classical music played in their home as Mr. Gee set the table and lit candles while Mrs. Gee cooked.
Mr. Gee served on the board of the Boston Classical Orchestra and helped found the Buzzards Bay Musicfest, which is held in Marion each summer.
He was an avid reader with a preference for historical nonfiction. “For the past 20 years, Christmas was laden with books,” Clark said. “The difficulty was finding books he hadn’t already gotten through.”
Still, with all his pastimes, “his best and most favorite hobby was being with and loving my mom,” Clark said.
A service has been held for Mr. Gee, who in addition to his wife and son leaves a daughter, Judy Gee Lewis of Dover; another son, Ronald of Golden, Colo.; a sister, Charlotte Beath of Chickasha, Okla.; and three grandchildren.
When Mr. Gee moved to Massachusetts, he changed his sports loyalties and began watching Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox games after dinner.
As if he had memorized a database of sports trivia, Mr. Gee was “able to tell you really strange and odd facts,” his son said. “We always joked that he could be the color commentator for any sporting event.”