Patricia Batal Lee, teacher and mentor to 1000’s of students, loving mother and friend who taught for over 30 years in Griffin Spalding County Georgia public and higher education schools, died peacefully of natural causes on January 4, 2021 in her home with her family. She was 81 years old.
Pat was best known for her role as Speech and Drama teacher at Griffin High School in Griffin Georgia. From 1968 through 1991 she taught lessons that students remember to this day. Her ability to see and bring out the best in students from every walk of life and every family situation changed the trajectory of generations of high schoolers. Hundreds, to this day, credit her with being the most influential teacher of their lives. Many still covet her decade old notes of encouragement and prophecies of great futures.
She was born on August 29, 1939 in Lawrence, Massachusetts to first generation Lebanese Americans, along with her younger twin Pauline. She grew up in Miami, Florida with her three siblings where she worked for her father in his neighborhood grocery store. In high school she was an accomplished member of the debate team and went to the national debate tournament.
Pat was the first member of her family to go to college. She attended Florida State University to major in Speech Communications from 1957-1961 where she joined the FSU Debate team under Dr. Greg Phifer.
On February 16, 1960 Florida State held the 11th Annual Invitation Debate Tournament hosting 23 schools from across the United States. FSU was competing in the tournament and their senior team included Pat Batal as first negative. The University of Georgia team was led by James R. Lee, team captain and 3rd year law student. In the debate round between the two schools, James, debating on the affirmative side, lost the round to Pat. Nonetheless, James was able to secure Pat’s contact information and informed his teammates at that time he would marry Pat Batal.
On June 19, 1961 James R. Lee III married Patricia Anne Batal in Dade County Florida and took up residence in Eastman, Georgia where Pat would spend one year teaching before moving to Griffin, GA.
Between 1962 and 1966 she had two children, Michael and Laura. She began teaching in the 7th grade for the Griffin Spalding County School system in fall 1967. In the fall of 1969 until 1991 she replaced Ms. Julia Elliott as head of the Griffin High School (GHS) Speech Department. She continued Ms. Elliott’s tradition of annual student drama productions.
In 1975, she agreed to be the faculty sponsor of the debate team with High School Junior Lona Triplett. One year later the GHS debate team reached the finals at their first tournament at Pace Academy in Atlanta. Throughout the 70’s she built Griffin into a major competitor and consistent winner in policy debate and individual events at local and national tournaments.
In 1979, almost 20 years after graduating from Florida State, she returned with her debate team to FSU’s high school invitational tournament where her team, which included her son, took 2nd place and her son won top speaker. It was even more poignant that her old friend, debate teammate and then current FSU coach Marilyn Young presided over the tournament. In the next decade her team would elevate to national prominence and produce several top debaters on the college circuit.
While traveling to state and regional debate tournaments most weekends of the school year she put on annual drama productions. She led her students in one-act play competitions across the state and took that program to victory for years. Each year she recruited students for VFW and American Legion speech competitions, she had students doing individual speech and drama events at debate tournaments, and arranged annual week long bus trips to New York City for students to see Broadway plays. She developed opportunities with local radio stations for student internships and the annual Radio Day. She started and administered the high school National Forensic League and Thespian Society programs. Outside of school she and her husband directed and produced community theater with current and former students.
Griffin High School, a small town football powerhouse, also became known throughout the state for academic and fine arts through the vision and determination of this 5′ 2″ dynamo.
She had a formula for changing lives. She created an environment of love and acceptance that drew students out of their shell into tangible peer recognized achievement which she reinforced throughout their life. She systematically reshaped self-images. She did that in every class room hour and every student interaction. The Speech Department and her home were safe places for students for life. As she said in a Facebook post in 2015 “I loved you when you entered my door and never stopped!”
Pat won many awards at the state and local level and she most treasured the Star Teacher honor. These were given to a teacher by the student with the highest SAT score in the school. Pat was recognized with three of these during her tenure.
After leaving GHS in 1991 she continued to teach in various capacities throughout the 90’s. She and her husband joined 1st Presbyterian Church in Griffin and contributed to many ministries.
In 2015 she moved to Edgewater, Florida for her final years with her beloved daughter and son-in-law.
Pat is survived by her sister and husband Susan and David Besserglick of Rocky River, Ohio, brother-in-law David Dallas of Eustis, Florida and sister-in-law Ann Batal of Arlington, Texas; her children and their spouses Michael and Lisa Lee of Boca Raton, Florida and Laura and Johnny Pattillo of Edgewater, Florida; and grandchildren, Joshua Lee, Joseph Lee and Hannah Lee also of Boca Raton, Florida.
She was preceded in death by her husband James (Jim) Lee, her twin sister Pauline (Polly) Dallas, and brother Joseph (Joey) Batal.
Her memorial will be conducted on January 30, 2021 between 2:00 pm and 3:00 PM at Baldwin Brothers 1 North Causeway New Smyrna Beach, FL 32169 with a Celebration of Life event to be held in Griffin, Georgia at a later date.