His wife just wrote up his obituary for the local paper. I’ll patch it in here, because I think it’s worth reading.
Lee the guy you all knew was just the last in a long line of reinventions, and recoveries.
It’s hard to appreciate where he got to without realizing just how long the road was to get there.
July 29, 1935 · June 25, 2017
Santa Cruz, California
Inventor - Tool Designer - Entrepreneur
In the early 1900’s when a Kansas farmer married a Cherokee Indian, Lee Marshall’s
iconoclastic beginnings were sealed. Their scandalous union was blessed with fourteen
children. Lee’s mother, number 13, tired of the arduous work in the fields and at the age
of 15 ran away, marrying a 29-year-old oil-field engineer and at 17 she had Lee. Her
parents cajoled her back to the farm and then barred his father from visiting Lee and
they soon divorced.
Lee’s father kidnapped him when he was six and told him his mother was dead.
The Korean War started and his father was drafted. His mother frantically searched for
Lee, but it took a year until she finally found him. She drove up to the orphanage,
spotted him playing on the playground and ran toward him. Lee started screaming,
thinking she was a ghost. From that day he developed a debilitating stutter that was so
bad, people could hardly understand him. It only went away when he talked on the
telephone or sang.
When he was seven, Lee had to appear in court and tell the judge which parent
he wanted to live with, a devastating experience. He chose his mother who went on to
marry seven times. Lee was never in any school for more than a year. Being the new
kid on the block, and with a terrible stutter, he underwent much bullying. He began to
go to the library in every town they lived in and librarians became his best friends. By
age 12 he knew all the Greek and Roman myths and had devoured most of the books
in the small town libraries.
Lee’s father continued his work in the oil fields and when Lee was 12 he gifted
him with a gutted car that didn’t work. He told Lee if he could make it work, he’d let
him drive it in the oil fields. Within two years Lee had the car going and by his 14th
birthday he drove it all over town, starting his life-long love of automobiles.
Lee also loved tennis, a sport where he could excel on his own. He won a tennis
scholarship to Texas A&M and during the summer he joined his father working
on the oil decks. A heavy crane knocked him off the platform and caused a break in
his leg below the knee. The field doctor bandaged it too tight and gangrene set in. It
was amputated below the knee, but the gangrene continued up his leg and he spent his
18th birthday in the hospital undergoing another amputation, this time above the knee.
He returned home with an artificial leg and started college. He didn’t last a term. Also,
in those days, no doctor would testify against another and there was no compensation.
Lee went to junk yards and bought broken appliances and odds and ends that
didn’t work, would fix and resell them and gradually saved enough money to start a
muffler shop. He had an assistant who would deal with the customers since Lee’s stutter
was so bad. The business failed and he returned to college in Oklahoma, a dry state
and started a business running whiskey into Missouri, a wet state. He built a car that
hid his supplies under the carriage and souped it up to evade the cops who would
occasionally chase him to the state line.
Lee next started racing sports cars and ended up in the racing car circuit, usually
in the mechanics’ pits doing triage on cars during the races. He took a Dale Carnegie
course in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and after painfully giving speeches
in class, finally lost most of his stutter. He started inventing equipment for the racing
industry and eventually started a successful business in Torrance, Ca. that employed a
staff of 12 and was well-received in the sports industry.
Lee was intrigued by a woman driving a Citroen 2CV plastered with flowers. She
was curious about a three-wheel car he had designed. So his second marriage began
because both partners suffered some car envy. Deciding to leave Southern California,
they moved into the redwoods of Santa Cruz, taking one child each and leaving one
child with their respective exes .
Lee’s much-loved son, Douglas, struggling since birth with a congenital disease,
died at age 18 while attending UCSC.
Lee designed green-houses, bee-hives,and finally state-of-the-art clean rooms
for computers, turning down job offers from abroad to become head of engineering
for a hot glue manufacturer in Sand City. He and the R&D crew were exposed to
isocyanides and he lost his memory and ability to do math for most of a year. During
rehab he took a metal arts class, noticing the presses were poorly made and made a
hydraulic press for himself. The other students all began lusting after one and he began
building them for his classmates. His teacher told him that he had the makings of a
business that was badly needed by metalsmiths and so Bonny Doon Engineering was
born. After many years and much acclaim and several awards, he decided to retire and
sold the business.
Lee’s retirement lasted about two weeks when he turned from metal to wood,
starting a new business. He invented equipment for fine woods craftsmen, luthiers,
marquetry, mosaic and cabinetry artisans. He named it Knew Concepts. It was an immediate
hit and quickly went international with representatives’ in Europe, Asia, South
America and Southeast Asia.
Lee health began failing during the last year and he was hit with crisis after crisis.
His friends from across the country came to Santa Cruz to lend a hand and to say
He spent his final weekend with family on the Roaring Camp Railway going for
one last ride. He died at the time of his choosing with loved ones at his side. He is
survived by wife (.Margie Kern-Marshall); step-daughter (Sheryl Kern-Jones); step-son
(Daniel Kern); estranged son (Denis Marshall); and much beloved grandson (Rowan
A memorial will be announced at a future date.