Harrison County

Former Harrison County deputy served his country - twice

Lee Sleight, far right, on deployment to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean
Lee Sleight, far right, on deployment to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean

The clanging of a cowbell was music to Lee Sleight's ears.

Born in upstate New York, he was one of 10 in the first graduating class of Queensbury High School in 1953. But he became a diehard Bulldog after he earned an engineering degree from Mississippi State.

Sleight died in late April and was buried Saturday alongside his parents in his hometown of Queensbury. He was 79.

After high school, Leon Jay "Lee" Sleight joined the Air Force and served from 1954 to '58. He earned his degree from MSU and accepted a job with General Electric in Utica, N.Y., where he engineered by day and sang the blues in a local band at night.

At 31, with a good job and a family, he felt compelled to serve his country again. He rejoined the military, this time in the Navy and the Fighting Seabees, serving two tours in Vietnam.

His construction battalion came under fire while they worked to rebuild infrastructure in Vietnam, and he was awarded the Bronze Star.

During his Navy career, he lived in Okinawa, Guam and Diego Garcia before settling at a desk job at the Pentagon in the '80s. He worked alongside the Naval Investigative Service, later named the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, to uncover cases of fraud, corruption and abuse.

"He'd work with Navy officials to ensure that specs were followed and that the projects that the Navy was working on building was up to par," said his son Karl Sleight. "He had a strong sense of public duty and public service."

When it came time to pick his last tour of duty, Lee Sleight chose Gulfport, where he received his honorable discharge as lieutenant commander.

After the military, Sleight still felt compelled to serve, so he worked as a Harrison County sheriff's deputy.

He lived in Long Beach for nearly 40 years, where he enjoyed Coast food and Bulldog sports. He never missed a Mississippi State-Ole Miss game, no matter what the sport, his son said.

"He loved everything about the Gulf Coast of Mississippi," Karl Sleight said. "Although he was born in New York, if you'd asked him he'd probably say he was a Mississippian."

Lee Sleight loved sports and being outdoors. He hunted and fished around the world during his military career, and was a talented football, baseball, track and field, bowling and basketball athlete.

He wasn't a competitive swimmer, but when the opportunity arose, he became a swimming coach to kids in South Mississippi, including his youngest daughter, Lea.

He shared his love of sports with his son, and music with his other daughter, Karen. "My middle sister Karen inherited his musical talents," Karl Sleight said. "Me, not so much."

Lee Sleight was a licensed pilot, and also enjoyed racing around a track in a stock car.

There wasn't much he couldn't do.

"He was someone who I think tried to challenge himself and tested the boundaries of what he was able to do," Karl Sleight said. "I think he enjoyed trying to develop a skill in a lot of different things and when he set his mind to it, he was a pretty determined person."

The family suggests donations in Lee Sleight's name be made to the American Lung Association.