May 13, 1932 - July 11, 2020
Lockwood, New York
July 11, 2020
May 13, 1932
Ilford, East London England, UK
Wednesday, August 5, 2020 at 11:00 AM at Blauvelt Funeral Home, 625 Broad Street, Waverly, New York
Basil Leonard “Lee” Searjeant passed away on July 11 at the Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pennsylvania. He had celebrated his 88th birthday on May 13.
Lee was preceded in death by his parents, Leonard Stanley and Phyllis Dorothy (Godbold) Searjeant, and brother Martin of London, England, and his long-time companion, Eddie Aponte of New York City.
He is survived by a nephew, Bradley Searjeant, his wife Judith and their children Elizabeth Fogarty and Jamie Searjeant of Wilmington, Kent, England, and several great-nieces and -nephews. He has also left behind many loving friends in the Lockwood, New York area, in New York City and in England.
Lee was born in 1932 in Ilford, in northeast London. After school there, Lee was a member of the Royal Air Force before working in the film industry on both sides of the Atlantic. He retired after spending several years as a sales manager for Aramis, Inc., where he worked at several distinguished New York City department stores. He attended services at the Grace Episcopal Church in Waverly, New York and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Manhattan.
During Lee’s childhood he experienced the 1939 – 1941 German bombing of London in World War II. His family spent time in various fallout shelters during the raids, including days at a time sheltering in the London Underground, and in a bank vault in a building that housed his father’s optometry office. He and his brother Martin devised a war game – after every raid, when the roads were littered with shrapnel, they would collect metal fragments of all sizes, and at the end of the day tally up and see who had found the most pieces, and more importantly, the largest piece. Regardless of the air raids, he was still able to indulge his nascent love of movies when his family went to the pictures. Sometimes, because of the raids, they’d have to leave in the middle of a film and return later to see the ending, but the films took their minds off the reality of the war. Mrs. Miniver, starring Greer Garson, was a movie about ordinary people coping with life during the bombing raids that Lee always remembered and mentioned when discussing the war.
Upon completion of his O Level exams, Lee joined the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF), where he worked as a cryptographer for four years. As it was peacetime, he was stationed closed to home and was able to see his family regularly, and to enjoy an occasional night out in a London pub.
Lee and his parents moved to Toronto, Ontario in the 1950s, where Lee worked in film production at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC). Lee made his first trip to New York City during that time and vowed that someday he would return. When his parents made the decision to go back to England to be nearer to their families, Lee decided to use the skills acquired at the CBC, back in London. He landed a job in the promotions department of Columbia Pictures in their office on Soho Square. After his mother passed away, Lee’s father moved his optometry business to Plymouth, in Devon on the southwestern English coast. Lee joined him there and bought a small bungalow he named “Blue Haze”. Lee and his father enjoyed the proximity to the English Channel and the Atlantic for many years and he retained a fondness for Plymouth throughout his life. His ashes will be scattered near Blue Haze.
Lee’s wanderlust and vow to see New York again led him to emigrate there in the early 1960’s. He used his experience in film to land a role at United Artists, the company founded by Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith, all giants of movie history. When the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) opened an office on Third Avenue in New York City, an old colleague from London was among the staff and asked Lee to join as a film editor, a job that Lee enjoyed for many years.
Looking for a new challenge, Lee was intrigued to learn that Estee Lauder was starting a new company with products targeted to men, named after one of Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers, Aramis. Lee’s job was to make Aramis a household name in America by leading the company’s sales efforts in some of the most famous New York department stores. including B. Altman & Co., Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman, from which he retired after several years of dedicated service. He enjoyed engaging with people, and the new job allowed him to do that all day. He met many a famous person in the shops; two favorites were Claude Rains and Anthony Perkins, who asked him to lunch and after-work drinks.
Lee met his long-time companion, Eddie Aponte, in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, where they both lived. They would see each other in the area when Eddie walked his dog Spike. They found that they shared many interests and complimented each other in many ways. Each became a part of the other’s family and circle of friends, and they always spent holidays with family at the Jersey Shore, in New York City, or in England. Over the years, Lee and Eddie indulged a love for sailing and took at least one cruise every year. They sailed mostly to the Caribbean, where they always looked forward to spending time in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. They also cruised in the Mediterranean, especially enjoying Greece. They travelled often to England to visit the Searjeants and family friends in London and Plymouth.
Once on a ship to England, Lee met Judy Garland, who was traveling to perform in London, and her then husband, Sid Luft, who invited him to dine with them on the ship, and gave him tickets to watch her show at the Palladium theatre in London. Lee had a lifelong devotion to the star, and in the last year was mesmerized by the 2019 biopic, Judy, which won an Oscar for Renee Zellweger, whose uncanny performance as Garland was a constant topic of conversation for Lee.
One day in the late 1980’s, Lee saw an advertisement in a real estate brochure for a charming 1895 house in upstate New York. He phoned the agent, who promptly flew Lee up to Lockwood to see the house and he made an offer on the spot. The house became his happiest project. Lee spent as many days in Lockwood every year as the rent control agreement on his New York City flat would allow. He loved taking care of his garden, mowing the large lawn and watching the spring turn to summer and then to fall every year. Lee and Eddie hosted numerous friends from New York, and English relatives, who loved the landscape of the Southern Tier and seeing the sights: the Finger Lakes and New York wine country; plentiful antique markets; Watkins Glen State Park, with its numerous waterfalls; local theatrical productions in Owego and Elmira; the Tioga Downs raceway; the Corning Museum of Glass.
Lee’s lifelong passion was movies. He grew up steeped in old Hollywood and the studio system stars. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of films from the 1940’s through the 1990’s – he could recall the directors and stars of nearly every film and could tell stories about the people and facts on the making of most every movie. Nearly every situation he encountered sparked recall of a film, as his friends can attest. He searched the flea markets upstate to add to his collection of thousands of VHS and DVD movies, and met his favorite bootleg film dealer in NYC’s Union Square every weekend he was in the city, weather permitting, to fill in his library of classic movies. On a lucky day he would be able to get copies of the Oscar-nominated shows, prior to the awards ceremony, for $1. Lee loved nothing more than sharing his movie expertise and insight with friends.
In recent years, Lee began capturing his reminisces on paper. At the closing of his memoir of living through the London bombing as a child during the war, he wrote: “World War II proved not to be the war to end all wars – far from it. They are given many other names, but the killing continues. Peace in our time? Let’s hope so.” This lovely, kind and gentle man will be remembered fondly by everyone whose lives he graced.
A memorial service to honor Lee’s life will be held on Wednesday, August 5, 2020 at 11:00 AM at Blauvelt Funeral Home, 625 Broad Street, Waverly, New York with Rev. Benjamin Lentz officiating. Those unable to attend the service, we will Live Stream the service at www.blauveltfuneralhome.com. Those wishing to send a message of sympathy to Lee’s family may visit our Facebook page or in “Obituaries” at www.blauveltfuneralhome.com.
From: Chris Brewster
So sorry to hear of Lee's passing. He was a joy to everyone who had the pleasure to meet him. His visits to the library were always a treat, and he'll be sorely missed.
From: Pauline Cleveland
I have known Lee for several years. He was a good friend. He was quite the movie and theater buff. He recalled titles, actors and actresses who performed in movies and on the stage. He loved to converse with any and every one.
From: Jamie Searjeant
Uncle Lee was an amazing Great Uncle. He would visit it us in the UK and as children my sister and I were always so excited to see him. He would always bring Interesting gifts from New York and his travels. He was a kind, attentive and generous Great Uncle who was so interested in our lives and he would often write to us. His letters were always very interesting and would also include reference to the latest films he had watched. We would always write back to him keeping him update with what was going on in the UK.
My sister and I had the pleasure to visit him in New York. We had a wonderful time seeing his home town and meeting his friends and past work colleagues. It was wonderful experiencing his life in New York and we were also able to spend quality time in Lockwood with his dear friend Eddie. We had a lovely meal at Eddie’s apartment in Queens. My sister and I could really tell that Uncle Lee was proud of his life in New York and enjoyed being able to show us around. We even cooked him a ‘Toad in the Hole’ as he requested some ‘English Meals’ when we were staying at Lockwood.
He will be greatly missed and we will never forget his kind and caring nature and his fantastic sense of humour.
Rest in peace Lee
Love your Great Nephew Jamie xxx
From: Judith and Brad
To a wonderful uncle, great uncle and great, great uncle, you will be sorely missed by us all in England. Such a kind and gentle man, your anecdotes will stay with us and will be re-told to all the family, so as time goes by you will never be forgotten. We will all miss your visits to England but look back fondly at the fun times we had with you and Eddie. Lots of Love Brad and Judith (Searjeant)
From: Lizzie Fogarty
Uncle Lee was the most wonderful man. Someone I admired and loved deeply. I am going to miss getting my regular updates from New York. I loved receiving my air mail letters and will treasure them all forever more.
Remembering you is easy, I’ll do it every day, but missing you is a heartache that will never go away...
Always in our hearts,
xxx Lizzie, Martino, Dylan and Benjamin xxx
From: Cathy Cioffi
Deepest Condolences to Lee’s friends & family. I have been praying for him and will continue to do so. He was blessed to have a long and rich life. I was happy to know him, even slightly.