Lee Kye Thomas departed this life on March 14, 2023 at the age of 95. Lee was born on December 14, 1927, in Dublin, Mississippi. She was one of fifteen children born to Charlie Leslie and Lillie Bell Epps. Lee and her siblings were raised in a household rooted in Christ, the importance of education, self-respect, and humanitarianism. Lee’s mother, Lille Bell Epps, was a devoted mother and accomplished seamstress. Her father Charlie Epps Sr. (despite the adversities of the time) was a proud and successful entrepreneur and landowner. Landownership not only provided the Epps family with financial stability, respect from white community members, and an enriched sense of pride, but it also awarded Charlie Epps Sr. the distinct honor of being the 1st Black man to vote in the county as he met literacy and landownership requirements.
Lee Kye Thomas attended Alcorn State University and taught Home Economics in Larma County, Mississippi. In 1952, at the age of 24, Lee migrated north to Syracuse, NY. Upon arriving in Syracuse. Lee (who had given her life to Christ at the tender age of 12) joined Bethany Baptist and remained a member for 50 years. In 2002, Lee joined New Life Temple of Praise where she is presently a member.
As a devoted working mother of 5 beautiful children, Lee was employed at General Electric Company for 34 years, working her way up from the assembly line to the accounting department. After retirement, she worked for the Syracuse City School District as a teaching assistant and later at the Westcott Community Center.
With the seeds of activism, civic responsibility and resilience planted in the Epps household, Lee and her siblings carried them on throughout their lives. On August 28, 1963. in Washington DC, Lee was among the thousands in attendance to witness Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s now iconic “ I Have a Dream” speech. Lee’s passion for progress was a constant theme throughout her life. She was an Election Inspector (poll worker) for over 40 years and even received a kiss on the cheek from the first African American President, Barack Obama.
As the matriarch, Lee lived a life devoted to family and service. For her, family staying connected and standing in the gap for one another was paramount. To ensure that the Epps family remained close, she established the Epps Family Reunion in the early 1970’s that has continued every two years since. Lee was a legendary hostess and caregiver. Her residence at 730 Mountainview was not only a soft place to land for family in need, but it was also the gathering place for all holidays and family events.
Lee and her beloved late husband, John Thomas, were lovers of music and dance. They would dance wherever music was being played. Lee’s love for dance continued until her final days-- she brought in her 95th birthday dancing to Stevie Wonder’s rendition of 'Happy Birthday.' In addition to her love of music, Lee was also an amazing orator and poet. She was often asked to recite her favorite poem, 'Here To Stay,' during Black History celebrations throughout the city, including Syracuse University.
Her zest for life was contagious. She and John enjoyed fun-filled game nights and travel with a close-knit group of like-minded couples. Lee was an avid sports fan and attended games well into her eighties. She was the life of the party, exuding warmth, grace, and a clever sense of humor with impeccable comedic timing when reciting a joke or telling a story.
Lee, also lovingly referred to as everyone’s 'Granny,' was full of love and compassion for all those she encountered. She had an innate gift of making everyone feel special, included, seen, and loved, evidenced by the devotion of her family and friends.
Lee was preceded in death by John E. Thomas (Husband), Willie Kye Jr, her parents Charlie L. Epps and Lillie B. Epps. Five sisters, Lethann Bailey, Lucille Sanders, Dilsie Jones, Lillie Mitchell and Mary Alice
Hayes; eight brothers Claude Burns, John Hines, Charlie Jr. Jimmie, John Andrew, William, Henry and Jessie; and grandson Joshua E. Fredette and stepdaughter Cheyanne Haynes.
She leaves to cherish her memory one brother, Robert Epps (Mary), three daughters, Mary Ann Adams (Mitch C), Rita Kye Cosby Fredette (John), Cora Caroline Kye Pitts (Keith A) of Syracuse, New York; two sons, Willie Kye lll (Dorothy) of Traverse City, Michigan, and Harold Kye of Durham, North Carolina; one stepdaughter Carolyn Thomas of Syracuse, New York and 18 grandchildren and great grands and a host of loving nieces and nephews
Calling Hours will be Monday, March 27, 2023 from 10-12PM at Bethany Baptist Church.