Norvel Lee

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Norvel Lee
Personal information
BornSeptember 22, 1924

Norvel L. R. Lee (September 22, 1924 in Eagle Rock, Virginia – August 19, 1992 in Bethesda, Maryland) was a boxer from the United States, who competed in the Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight divisions during his career as an amateur.

Early life[edit]

Norvel LaFollette Ray Lee was born on September 22, 1924 to James Jackson ("Jack") Lee and his wife, George Anna Ray in the small town of Eagle Rock in Botetourt County, Virginia. He had three siblings; a sister, Edna Mae (1926), and two brothers, James Fitzhugh (1928) and George Edward (1936); George had a twin brother that died during childbirth. Norvel was educated in the public schools of Virginia. At an early age, he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior, was baptized and worshiped at the Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church in Gala, Virginia by the age of 12.


Lee's pursuit of excellence in education is personified in his impressive credentials commencing in 1952. He received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physical Education from Howard University, Master of Arts Degree in Adult Education from Federal City College (1969), and ABD from Catholic University, all located in Washington, D.C. In addition, from 1952 to 1992 he completed hundreds of hours of continuing education credits in management and administration, civil defense, emergency management, and real estate, while simultaneously enrolled in active military duty or working full-time and maintaining his family life.

Personal life[edit]

On June 22, 1951 Norvel married the love of his life, Leslie Ellen Jackson of Leesburg, Virginia. They had two daughters, Deborah Louise in 1954 and Denise Kay in 1955. Norvel believed in earning an honest dollar and worked for most of his life. His first job was working in the popcorn fields alongside his father earning $0.90 a day (his father earned $1.10/day). He later worked on the railroad loading coal cars. It was there that he realized that a life of hard labor was not for him. His professional career began as a teacher and a counselor for the Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons, and expanded to various administrative and managerial positions, including Director of Education for the D.C. Youth Center, D.C. Department of Corrections; Director of Training, D.C. Department of Public Welfare - Title V Training Program; Deputy Project Director, The Institute of Computer Technology; Director of Counseling Education, The Federal City College; Coordinator of Adult and Community Education, Baltimore City Department of Education where he served as Chairman of the Mayor's Manpower Advisory Council, Assistant Superintendent of Personnel, Assistant Superintendent of Adult and Community Education, and Coordinator; Manpower Skills Center. In addition, Lee was Director of Equal Employment Opportunity, Federal Emergency Management Agency; and Radiological Protection Officer and Emergency Operations Officer for the D.C. Office of Emergency Preparedness.

Civil Rights Case[edit]

Lee was a firm believer in civil rights. In 1948 while returning to his hometown of Covington, VA he was arrested for going against Jim Crow laws and refusing to move from his seat in the white-only section of a passenger train car; the NAACP posted his bail. He was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine of $5. He appealed to the Circuit Court of Allegheny County and lost. He was found guilty and fined $25. He appealed the case again and went before the Virginia State Supreme Court [Norvell Lee v. Commonwealth of Virginia, record 3558 (1949)] and the judgement of the court was overturned, resulting in him winning the case.[1]

Military service[edit]

A very patriotic man, Norvel Lee served his country in the military beginning in the early 1940s. Moving up the ranks from 2nd Lieutenant and retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, he served with the 2617 Air Service Center, Washington, D.C.; 459th Military Airlift Wing, Andrews Air Force Base, Washington, D.C.; and the 14th Reserve/DW, Dobbins, Georgia. Upon retiring, he enlisted and was assigned to the 113th Tactical Fighter Wing, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Andrews Air Force Base.

Boxing career[edit]

Much of Lee's life was centered around boxing. Often mistaken for renowned heavyweight champion Joe Louis for his stature and skill in the ring, Norvel began his boxing career in 1947 while enlisted in the armed services. He later moved to Washington, D.C. and enrolled at Howard University, and became both a light-heavyweight and heavyweight contender. In 1948, he made the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team for the London Olympics. In 1949 and 1950, he won the central division Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship. In 1950 and 1951, he brought home the National AAU crown, the New York City Golden Gloves championship and the Chicago Golden Gloves title. In 1951, he also participated in the Pan American Games in Argentina. The height of Lee's career came in 1952 at the 15th Olympiad in Helsinki, Finland when he won the Gold Medal and Olympic Championship Title in the Light-Heavyweight Division. He received the Val Barker Trophy for being the most outstanding boxer at the Olympic Games. The US team consisted of Norvel continued to box in amateur matches until 1955, when he won the Silver Medal in the Second Pan American Games in Mexico. After repeated offers, he refused to box professionally and retired with a 100-5 record. He then became a boxing coach at Howard University.

Lee maintained involvement in various administrative and policy-making boxing organizations, including serving as a member of the District of Columbia Boxing Commission for ten years; Chairman of the Commission for six years; and member of the Executive Board of the World Boxing Association for four years. He was an inductee and Past President of the D.C. Boxing Hall of Fame, and Chief Judge, D.C. Boxing Commission. In 1964 he was invited to Gambia and Mali in Africa to teach boxing for two months in summer training programs.

Amateur career[edit]

Lee narrowly missed out of making the 1948 Summer Olympics, losing to Jay Lambert in the finals of the US Olympic Trials. In 1950 he won the New York Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions in the heavyweight division, by KO over Nick Vasquez, the heavyweight Intercity Golden Gloves Championship, besting Kirby Seals and the National AAU Heavyeight Championship, when he decisioned Stan Howlett of Madison, IL in the final. He would repeat as National AAU Heavyweight champion again in 1951 and earn a bronze medal at the 1951 Pan American Games. Lee went to the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki as a reserve Heavyweight. He was told that if he could make the weight limit, he could compete as a Light Heavyweight. Lee lost twelve pounds, and went on to defeat Argentina's Antonio Pacenza for the Gold Medal on a 3-0 decision. He was awarded the Val Barker Trophy for Outstanding Boxer at the 1952 Summer Olympics.

Olympic results[edit]

Later years and death[edit]

In 1991, Norvel retired after 36 years of government service. Throughout his years he was involved in various activities and received many professional and civic honors which included: President, Lamond Riggs Citizens Association; President, Parents Preschool Council of the District of Columbia; President, National Capital Child Day Care Association; Region II Vice President, American Society of Professional Emergency Planners; Vice President, National Skills Center Directors Association; President, Diplomat Cab Association; and a member of the American Society of Public Administrators. He was listed in "Who's Who Among Black Americans".

Another chapter of his life included real estate investment, rental and sales. He was a licensed real estate agent who completed course requirements for his broker's license, and was the owner of Century 21 in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

Lee spent most of his free time with his family and close friends; he was a devoted father and grandfather. On August 19, 1992 at 8:40PM, he lost a battle to pancreatic cancer at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland.


  1. ^ "Norvell Lee v. Commonwealth of Virginia , record 3558 (1949)". Case Text. Retrieved 2016-10-18.

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