J. Bracken Lee's passion for the U.S. Constitution will die when he does and not a moment before.
Lee turns 90 next month. At that age, the man who served as governor of Utah for seven years and mayor of Salt Lake City for 12 years would be entitled to divert his attention from government to "senior citizen" pursuits. But he shows no signs of doing so.He is keenly interested in local and national politics. Sitting in the living room of the house he has shared with his wife, Margaret, since they left the Governor's Mansion in 1956, Lee discoursed on his favorite subjects: government and the Constitution.
He believes the Constitution has been trampled under the feet of a gluttonous government.
"I claim that I've lived half of my life in a free country," he said. "The latter half, I feel like I am a slave to the government of the United States and its units because none of them are acting now like they did the first 150 years."
He attributes every ill in government to the abuse of the Constitution: from inflation and high taxes to ignorant political leaders.
"Every dollar I made used to be my own. Now the government takes a big chunk out of everything I make." He is appalled at inflation. "I paid $2,000 for a fully equipped Cadillac years ago when we were a free country. The last time I bought one, it was $23,000. Just think of that!"
He blames high taxes on a greedy government. When he was mayor of Salt Lake City from 1960 to 1972, he received $12,000 a year in salary, he said. "Ted Wilson got $25,000 when he started and $50,000 when he finished. Now the Salt Lake mayor makes as much as the governor."
Lee is harshly critical of elected officials who are not familiar with the Constitution. "I just can't understand a person who would hold up his right hand and swear to honor, defend and obey the Constitution without at least reading it to see what it was he swore to do."
Lee is still spry. Using his snow-blower, he cleared the snow from his sidewalk and driveway earlier that day. He also cleared the sidewalks on both sides of the street near his home.
He and Margaret are immensely proud of their tribe of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Their young people are the focus of their lives, Mrs. Lee said.
The Lees have gotten themselves in a bit of family trouble in the past by promising to spend Christmas with one child, then forgetting that promise and agreeing to spend the holiday with another offspring.
Age does that to one, Lee concluded. "I told them from now on, I wasn't honoring any verbal agreements I make. They had to be in writing."
When Lee isn't studying about the Constitution, he is compiling scrapbooks. He has compiled 16 scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, family photos and family history records.
Mrs. Lee shares her husband's passion for learning. She was seriously injured in a car accident a few years ago. The car the Lees were riding in was a Cadillac. Because the sturdiness of the car saved her life, Mrs. Lee became fascinated with the history of the Cadillac.
She has read everything she can find on the man who designed the Cadillac and can rattle off his other inventions as well.