Leroy W. “Lee” Soper, beloved mentor, esteemed figure in bookselling, and revered member of the northwest literary community, passed away on Tuesday, the day before his 92nd birthday.
Love and memories are posted to Facebook by friends and colleagues, admirers all:
“Such a great mentor to so many of us. A real gentleman.” “What a legend! What an inspiration!” “. . . a great spirit and one smart bookseller.” “Lee Soper got me into publishing. I owe my career to him. He was the best.” “What a gem of a person.”
Lee managed the University Book Store in Seattle from 1977 to 1993. He began his professional life in books at the Walla Walla Bookshop from 1952-1958. He started work at the University Book Store from 1959-1969, and returned to manage the store from 1977-1993. He was a founder of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association in 1960 and established the book wholesale warehouse, Raymar Northwest Book Company. Soper served on the Board of Directors for the American Booksellers Association. Because of his significance to the literary community, his papers are in the archives at the University of Washington— including correspondence with authors like Ivan Doig, Tom Robbins, and Gary Larson.
Lee Soper is a soft-spoken, elegant man with a rich vein of humor in him. He majored in English at Whitman, began selling books right out of school.
-Emma Watson, “‘Mr. Books’ Closing Out Ave Chapter”, The Seattle Times, January 7, 1994
I wish I had a picture of myself with Lee; I long to see that smile in my local bookstore again. He and I shared the same birthday, and he always made me feel so welcomed into the world of books. I met him as a customer at Queen Anne Books when we were his neighborhood store, but as Pam Cady, current manager of University Book Store put it, “he was everyone’s customer,” a true supporter of independent bookstores and a complete bibliophile.
When I became a children’s book buyer in 2006, he surprised me by giving me two books from his collection. The note he tucked inside read, “Hi Tegan! Glad you are in Children’s Books. -enjoy- Best, Lee.”
Thank you, and RIP, Mr. Books.