CAPE ELIZABETH — One of the biggest and best known Maine auto dealers, Shep Lee, 83, died at home Wednesday night, a result of cancer.
Lee became a very well known and successful car dealer, taking over the dealership his father began in Auburn in 1936.
Lee grew the business, moving out to Center Street in the 1960s when Center Street "was the edge of the earth," said John Isaacson, CEO of Lee Auto Malls in Maine. "He was a visionary," Isaacson said. "He was very interested on being the first in the business to do what he did."
Lee was the first auto dealer to go on television in the 1960s, the first to create what was known as "mega dealers" in the 1970s.
He was also extremely connected to politicians in high office, mostly Democrats.
He was personal friends with many Maine governors, members of Congress, and mingled with several presidents, including Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
He was involved with Ed Muskie's run for president, Isaacson said.
"For many years if a Democrat in the state of Maine wanted to run for governor or congress," one of the first orders of business was to visit Shep Lee and get his support, Isaacson said. "That was key."
Maine Gov. John Baldacci also issued a statement on Lee's death offering condolences to Lee's family.
"Shep was a close friend and confidante and a stalwart supporter of the people of Maine,”Baldacci said in a prepared statement. “His tireless advocacy for economic development is unmatched, as is his lifetime of philanthropy and dedication to Maine communities. The ripple impact of Shep’s generosity and leadership will be felt by the people and causes he supported for generations to come.”