Retired Command Sergeant Major Earl E. Lee Remains at the Helm of JaNay’s Cleaners
By Brenda Buchanon, Contributing Writer
Command Sergeant Major Earl E. Lee is a “selfless man” according to Colonel R. Timothy Bobroski, United States Army Retired. Lee retired from the Army Reserve in August, 2019. Bobroski, explains that his friendship and work relationship with Lee spans decades—one of the hardest working people he’s ever met. “The guy is a superstar.” He also expounded that Lee always had his Soldier’s interest in the forefront of his mind; “No better Soldier—selfless.” This statement is one of many compliments bestowed on Lee from his former Army Reserve colleagues.
CSM Lee is a humble and compassionate man who lives by this rule– “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Lee, who was born in Norfolk, Virginia, grew up in Chesapeake, Virginia, graduated from Indian River High School and Norfolk State University. He traveled to different parts of the world during his years in the Armed Services. His military experience began in July, 1977 at Fort Bliss, Texas. A retirement ceremony was given in his honor on August 25, 2019 at Fort Gillem Logistics Center in Forest Park, Georgia. Among his many duties, Lee was the Command Sergeant Major for the 642D Regional Support Group located in Decatur, Georgia. From the retirement ceremony program, it notes Lee also served as the Command Sergeant Major for the 143D Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) located in Orlando, Florida from February 2018 through February 2019. As an Army Reserve Soldier, CSM Lee has held numerous assignments and has been described as a born leader.
Sergeant First Class Kimberly McCrimmons said Lee was her Brigade Command Sergeant Major and is an authentic person. She said his very presence meant he would take care of the Soldiers he was responsible for— “that’s what drives him.” He made certain he took care of his responsibilities. “He mentored us and we could seek guidance,” SFC McCrimmons explained. “He’s the real deal; I’ve never met anyone like him, he’s one of a kind.”
After retirement from the military and International Business Machines (IBM), Lee eventually returned to his roots in Virginia. He made a successful career in the military, as an IBM employee and entrepreneur by adhering to this motto: “Success is derived from the 3D’s (Desire, Dedication and Determination).”
But Lee’s passion was to begin his professional career at IBM, which he did, in 1984 in Endicott, New York. He transferred with IBM to Research Triangle Park, North Carolina in 1997. Lee retired from the company on December 31, 2015. He explained that he was recruited by IBM directly from Norfolk State. He told his professors at the time, his heart was set to work at IBM, thus turning down other employment offers, including one from NSA.
Even though his passion led him to IBM, Lee eventually noticed the company began downsizing, so with his entrepreneurial juices flowing, Lee began writing the business plan for his future business—JaNay’s Cleaners in 2008. He opened the company, named after his daughter Janay, in 2009. “I didn’t want my future dictated by someone else, so I opened my own business” he said. Lee is the President and CEO of JaNay’s Cleaners in Chesapeake where he grew up. According to Lee, both his parents were employed in the dry-cleaning industry during Lee’s youth.
In an effort to control his own destiny, Lee opened his business but did have help and gives credit to where credit is due. A person who helped with his successful dry cleaning business is Marie Twyman, who has been his team member/assistant manager at JaNay’s Cleaners for years. “I depended on her a lot,” he said.
How did Lee accomplish a successful career in the military, IBM and as a business owner? He said, “I am driven by results, that’s what kept me going.” To achieve success, Lee states, “you have to be passionate about what you do,” which enabled him to cross over the boundaries between all three endeavors.
In order to be successful in life, there is always someone who pushes you on your journey; the person who impacted Lee’s earlier life, other than his parents, was a high school math teacher at Indian River High School in Chesapeake, Mr. John Dunham. Lee said the teacher told him he was good in math, which set the stage for Lee’s economic acumen. Mr. Dunham encouraged Lee to develop a good work ethic while in high school, which eventually paid off. “I would not have made it without him,” Lee goes on to say.
Upon graduation from Indian River High School, Lee continued his education at Norfolk State University where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic Engineering and earned a Master’s Degree in Information Resource Management from Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. His military education includes: Primary Leadership Course, Basic/Advance Non-Commissioned Officers Course, and the United State Army Command Sergeants Major Academy.
He has received numerous awards during his professional and military life including: Legion of Merit Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (6 OLC), Army Commendation Medal (w/Silver OLC), and Engineer of the Year for the National Association of Industrial Technologist. In 2007, Lee was inducted into the College of Science, Engineering, and Technology Alumni Stars at Norfolk State University and is a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated.