YWCA Honors Judge Helen Shores Lee with Woman of Valor Award

February 19, 2014

At this year’s YWCA Annual Meeting, held Tuesday, February 11, 2014, an extraordinary woman was honored: Judge Helen Shores Lee. The meeting was originally delayed due to the snow and ice a few weeks ago, but despite the threat of wintry weather, the Board and Junior Board gathered Tuesday night. The group reviewed and celebrated the accomplishments of the YW in 2013 and took a moment to honor Judge Lee, who was awarded the 2013 Jeana P. Hosch Woman of Valor for her decades of commitment to civil rights and service to our community.

Judge Lee is an inspirational leader. Armed with a M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and a J.D. from Cumberland School of Law, Judge Lee’s decorated career includes serving as Director of Clinical Outreach Services for Jefferson County Department of Health, a vibrant law practice, and in 2003 Judge Lee became the first African-American woman to serve in the civil division of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County. Upon retiring from the Court, Judge Lee published a book, The Gentle Giant of Dynamite Hill, of firsthand accounts from her and her sister, Barbara, about growing up with their father, Arthur Shores. Shores was a prominent Civil Rights attorney, during the 1960s in Birmingham and a frequent target of the Ku Klux Klan. Between 1948 and 1963, some 50 unsolved Klan bombings happened in Smithfield where the Shores family lived, earning their neighborhood the nickname “Dynamite Hill.”

Newly retired YWCA CEO Suzanne Durham recalled being with Judge Lee on a service trip in Guatemala before either of them was involved with the YWCA. Durham was working with youth services at the Red Cross and Judge Lee had joined them on a service trip to Central America. Years later when Durham began her tenure at the YW, she asked Judge Lee to offer her expertise in both counseling and mental health as we made our first steps towards addressing domestic violence in our community. At the time, domestic violence and partner abuse was an emerging and relatively unknown issue. Long before we had counselors and case managers on staff, Judge Lee, who was then a mental health counselor and a YW Board member, provided her advice and counsel in the development of The Family Violence Project.

Durham explained the important influence this had on the YWCA, “Because of her impact on our domestic violence services, we are better at what we do, and our clients are better because of it.”

This award, given to inspirational leaders, is named for former YW Board member Jeana P. Hosch, a YW woman who was an inspiration to us all. Hosch left us much too soon last year at the age of 57. The award by local artist Mary Lemke is a tribute to Hosch’s strength, grace and far reaching wisdom. The statue is a woman and a sycamore tree: the sycamore tree is symbolic of strength, protection, divinity and eternity. The leaf which the figure is holding is heart-shaped, signifying love given to others freely. The tree bears figs which were considered to be humble food in Biblical times – producing for others less fortunate. This is a perfect tribute to both the award recipient and its namesake.

We honor Judge Lee and all those who make a difference in the lives of individuals and families throughout our community. To help up continue to provide outstanding and comprehensive services to those in need, please click here.