T. J. Lee Elementaryopened in March of 1959 with twelve classrooms and a cafeteria. The kitchen was the first school lunchroom to be equipped with electric appliances. The school was named after Thomas Jasper (Jap) Lee.
The school’s first principal was Wayne Wilson. Other principals have been Harry Teal, Duane Ball, Norman McDaniel, Dan Murray, Roy Curry, Ed Singley, Dolly Ripley, Cecil Carson, Bice Britt, Judy Griffith, Marilyn Naron, Vicki Grider, Maria Elena Coronado, and Wendi Vaughn. Angel Rico is the principal in 2016.
At the school’s dedication ceremony, Mrs. Regina Lee presented the school with a picture of her late husband and a propeller from one of the first planes he flew. Three wings have been added to the school and a major renovation took place in 1990.
Mr. Lee was born in Taylor, Texas, on November 6, 1899. He moved to this area when he was three years old. He graduated from Dallas public schools. Captain Lee became an airplane mechanic and learned to fly at Dallas Love Field in 1921. His love of flying became a lifetime commitment. That same year he joined the Emerson Flying Circus. At night he flew a plane advertising Mrs. Baird’s Bread. He later became a flight instructor. He contracted to fly the mail between Cleveland, Ohio and Louisville, Kentucky in 1927. That same year he and another pilot formed the Kentucky Airways in Lexington. Jap Lee even met the famous Charles Lindbergh in 1928.
Mr. Lee became a pilot in 1929 for the predecessor of American Airlines. He requested a transfer to move back to the Irving area flying the Dallas to Mexico City route. His last regular route was between Dallas Love Field and Los Angeles. He logged over 25,000 flying hours in his career with them.
In 1919 Mr. Lee married Lola Barley. They had 3 children and were later divorced. Captain Lee then married Regina Strauss from New Jersey in 1935. They had one daughter named Barbara. In 1942 Regina and Jap purchased 48 acres in Irving in the area west of what later became MacArthur Blvd. Here Mr. Lee raised hay and maize for the family’s horses. In 1947 the couple opened a private airfield known as Jap Lee Airport. Jap kept his private plane there as well as providing space for other pilots to rent to house their planes. After his death, Mrs. Lee sold the airport when the city’s growth expanded north. Part of that land was bought by Irving ISD. It was used to build the new elementary school, T. J Lee Elementary, on Carlisle St.
Captain Lee was very civic minded. He served on the Irving ISD Board of Trustees from 1949 to his death in 1955. He had also served on the school board for Elm School before it became part of Irving ISD and also the St. Luke’s School Board.
Captain Thomas Jasper (Jap) Lee died December 6, 1955. He is buried at Crown Hill Memorial Park in Dallas.
Research by Pam Price and Alice Weatherby. The attached pictures are provided to us by Billye Cheek, granddaughter of T.J. Lee. Additional information from Norma Stanton’s Irving, Texas: From Rails to Wings 1903-2003 and various articles in the Archives and Roots Web.com. This web page was created December 2016 by the Celebrating Irving Committee of the Irving Heritage Society in partnership with Irving Independent School District.