Frances Lee Myers "Grandma Lee" Strong
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Frances Lee Myers Strong ("Grandma Lee") passed away peacefully Friday, April 24, 2020, with her sons by her side. It was a tranquil ending to an extraordinary life that began in Oklahoma nearly 86 years ago.
Lee was born May 29, 1934, in Oklahoma City to Vest Cleveland Myers, Dean of Southeast Missouri State College, and Ruth VanSant Myers. She had two older sisters, Mildred and Ruth (from her father's previous marriage) whom she adored, and a younger sister Margaret. After her father's passing when she was 11, Lee lived with various relatives all over the country and eventually in an all-girls children's home in Kentucky. While there, she became pen pals with a young man who lived in an all-boys children's home, Ben Strong, exchanging letters for many years.
Lee attended Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, where she graduated with a degree in Journalism. She worked as a reporter before she and Ben married in 1958. Ben was a career Marine, and the young couple traveled and lived all over the world. They were living at Camp Pendleton, California when their oldest two children, sons Kevin and Timothy were born. They had two more children, son Kelly and daughter Joy, and lived in California, Germany, Turkey, North Carolina, New Mexico, and Hawaii before Ben decided to conclude his military career in Homestead, Florida. Along the way, Lee worked occasionally as a schoolteacher and cared for her children, sometimes for years at a time alone when Ben was deployed, including during two tours in Vietnam. She made lifelong friends in every location and is best remembered by her children, family and friends as always cracking jokes and entertaining a crowd.
When they settled in Homestead, Lee worked for the phone company and continued raising her four children. Her children went on to become a nuclear engineer in the U.S. Navy; an attorney and vice president of a Fortune 500 company; a pilot in the U.S. Coast Guard and later for a commercial airline; and a special education teacher. Lee said that her proudest accomplishment was her kids.
While living in Homestead, Lee survived the catastrophic Hurricane Andrew in 1992 along with her husband and daughter. They lost their home and most of their possessions in the storm and decided to relocate to Jacksonville, Florida, to start anew.
After settling in Jacksonville, Lee found out about a comedy workshop at The Comedy Zone. A lifelong jokester, she relished the opportunity to attend the workshops, hone her craft and perform her act in front of a crowd. Ben was supportive of Lee following her comedy dreams but only saw her perform a few times before he passed away following a battle with stomach cancer in 1995. Now a widow, Lee devoted endless energy into beginning her comedy career at age 60.
"Grandma Lee" as she was professionally known became famous in comedy clubs all across the country for her raunchy, no-holds-barred takes on motherhood and elderly life. She once told her children she had driven to Hilton Head, an 8-hour round-trip drive, just to get five minutes of stage time at a comedy club. She almost never said "no" to a gig and made dear friends from the comedy scene, many who became like children to her, and who were willing to travel for gigs as much as she was. All the while, Lee was a doting, loving mother and grandmother to her family that wholeheartedly supported her comedy career.
In 2004, Lee was featured as a crowd favorite on the first season finale of Last Comic Standing, but her big break came in 2009 when she was featured on season 4 of America's Got Talent, cracking the Top 10 and dazzling celebrity judges David Hasselhoff, Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan with her colorful humor. She remained a huge fan of the show in the decade that followed.
After winning over audiences on America's Got Talent, Lee performed In Las Vegas with fellow season 4 contestants and continued working regularly in comedy clubs across the country. She loved her newfound celebrity – few things made her happier than getting recognized while out to dinner or running errands and getting to sign autographs for her fans. When she wasn't traveling for comedy, Lee lived a relatively quiet life in Jacksonville, spending time with family and friends and always entertaining the room.
Lee's final performance was at a packed Tampa comedy club in front of an adoring crowd, which included multiple family members. She received a standing ovation.
Following the show, Lee suffered a broken hip after an accidental fall. Though she had surgery to repair the hip, she struggled to recover. She passed away while her sons held her hands during COVID-19 quarantine. Her passing was not related to the coronavirus.
Lee never met a stranger and is remembered by hundreds of friends made throughout her extraordinary life as the kindest, funniest person they ever met. Countless young comedians counted her as a mentor and thanked her for helping them follow their comedy dreams. She was a loyal, loving friend but is remembered most fondly by those who had the good fortune to call her Mom or Grandma.
Lee is survived by her son Timothy (Kelley) of Neptune Beach Florida; her son Kelly (Najwa) of Mobile, Alabama; her grandchildren Tabbatha Strong, Kaylin Strong, Zack Strong (Stephanie), Alexi Gonzalez (Justin), Katie Clarke (Trey), Amy Cuffe (Paul), Ben Strong, Skyler Strong, Claire Strong and Reagan Strong; and her great-grandchildren Sophia, Zylis, Alex, Cortez, Sansa, Andres and Sloane; as well as countless nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews and extended family. She is preceded in death by her parents, her three sisters, her husband Ben, her son Kevin and her daughter Joy.
Due to the coronavirus, no celebration of life will be scheduled at this time, but one will be scheduled when possible. The family would like to thank Beach House Assisted Living Facility and all of its staff for the wonderful care given to Grandma Lee over the past few years.
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Published in Florida Times-Union from May 21 to Jun. 7, 2020.
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June 2, 2020
What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful lady. I was one of those fans who saw Grandma Lee at the Comedy Zone. It's been several years, but she still makes me smile as I remember some of her jokes. She was an inspiration especially now that I am the age that she started her late in life career. May she rest in peace and keep them laughing in heaven.
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