Lee Raymond Badertscher
November 20, 1953 — May 18, 2020
Almost everyone who first met Lee Badertscher had that moment, where they weren’t sure if Lee was angry, miffed, or otherwise unhappy to see them. Every engineer who has reported to their first day at LEE + RO remembers meeting Lee for the first time. It’s not until about two weeks later that you understand that he’s not angry at you or at all—it’s just the way he is. It didn’t take much longer to figure that he really did like you, and not longer still to understand that he really cared about you. This was a side of Lee that not everybody got to know, but those of us who were lucky enough to call him a colleague and mentor will always remember.
Lee’s résumé reads like the history of Water and Wastewater in California, 1992 to present. Over 29 years as a Civil/Electrical/I&C Engineer and Project Manager at LEE + RO, we relied on his toughness, his commitment, and his legendary work ethic to deliver project after project. From Point Loma’s Grit Improvement Project all the way up to the facultative lagoons at Copper Cove and back down to GWRS and the Secondary Effluent Pumps at Hyperion, Lee’s design fingerprints are widely dispersed throughout the entire state. Steve Ro recalls meeting Lee for the first time:
“I still vividly remember the day Don and I interviewed Lee in 1992. His résumé showed no consulting—only ‘pipeline design & manufacturing & mining’—but I knew from that moment that he would work hard.”
Steve was right. Over the course of three decades, Lee threw everything behind his work—anyone who knew Lee knew how he spent his weekends. But along with hard work, he was equal parts courage. Lee was willing to step into the line of fire and do whatever it took to get the job done. When we needed someone to spend a couple of glamorous, back-breaking years crawling through and tagging valves in the trenches at OCSD Plants 1 & 2, he stepped up to the plate. When we needed more in-house I&C capability, it was Lee who picked up the gauntlet and taught himself the discipline. He did it yet again some years later with electrical design. When we needed someone to spend 20 months in Korea supporting the relocation of USAG Humphreys, it was Lee who moved his entire life to begin another adventure and conquer another challenge–his only special request was access to whatever streaming service would allow him to watch his Denver Broncos. He came back from Korea with new friends and a love for fried chicken & beer.
Whenever a project was in trouble—out of time/budget/money—and needed to be saved by nothing short of the aforementioned courage and hard work, there was only one choice for the assignment. Where others may have tried to avoid the falling anvil at all costs, the only thing Lee needed to get started was a fresh progress set and file path. In Lee, clients didn’t get great small talk or funny jokes to start construction meetings. In fact, he would usually kick off each new project with a simple and maddening question for many clients: “So … What do you want?” This approach alienated some of them throughout the years (understandably), but what Lee lacked in smoothness and client relationship management skills, he made up for with capability and hard work. The clients who understood and liked Lee best were the ones who understood that they weren’t just assigned a PM, they were handed a loaded gun ready to point and shoot at any problem. Lee was never so much directed as he was unleashed.
Lee was intensely loyal. You’d have to be to work as hard as he did on our behalf. But his loyalty also shone through in the way he looked after and took care of his team. Lee was categorically incapable of throwing people under the bus. Instead, he’d take responsibility (and the heat) for his team, showing a deep empathy for anyone and everyone working on his projects. He showed his loyalty by going out of his way to show up to our weddings; by buying our kids’ Girl Scout cookies or chocolate bars; by coming to our barbeques and house parties; and he was always ready for the next crazy food adventure (even when some of those adventures ended badly). More than that, he showed his loyalty to all of us by following through. No matter the request or technical question—from remembering where he’d used an exotic pipe penetration detail or welding spec, to trying to decipher a complex control diagram—Lee would make time to make sure he closed the loop, not just in service of “the project” but because he wanted to share what he’d learned over his long and storied career.
I was lucky enough to see Lee on March 13, 2020. I stopped by to check in on his recovery from back surgery and to drop off a small gift. We talked about work a little bit—I gave him updates on some of the jobs he had worked on before he went on medical leave, asked him for advice on how to best to approach motor couplings in Class 1, Div. 1 areas, and then mostly listened as he and Jeannie talked about recovery, his kids and grandkids, the dog, and current events. As I listened, I watched Lee’s face and observed a new dimension to his smile (one that I recognize in Steve these days)—it was a smile that belies the peace of mind that only comes after spending decades of leaving everything on the field. It gives me peace to imagine Lee knowing that peace and the specific satisfaction of having no professional regrets.
Lee is survived by his wife Jeannie, his children Eric and Nicole, and his beloved granddaughter Madelyn. But he is also survived by the scores of us whom he trained and mentored, with whom he shared countless lunches, 90% comment review spreadsheets and Saturday afternoons, teaching us how to be the best versions of ourselves. May his legacy live on through all of us.
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