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Craftsman Lee Hixon built stong foundations for family

February 11, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Berman Lee Hixon, who died Jan. 21 at the age of 85. His obituary was published in The Herald-Mail on Jan. 23.

When Lee Hixon left his job in the cabinet shop at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, his colleagues tricked him into making his own going away present.

"They all knew what a perfectionist he was," said Lee's eldest son, Darl Hixon.

So Lee was told he needed to craft a floor-length pedestal mirror with a wooden frame for a client. He had no idea he was the "client" until the presentation.

In all that Lee did, he tried to do his best, family and friends agree. That remained true throughout his life, which came to a close on Jan. 21 at his home in Hancock.

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Darl said his father worked with his hands all his life, and his work ethic was legendary. "If it needed sanded twice, Dad did it five times," Darl said.

It was that rigor that brought his Smithsonian co-workers to the conclusion that Lee wouldn't be satisfied with anyone else's work on his own present.

Darl and his brother Jim recalled learning woodworking from their dad, but that didn't mean their work was ever good enough for him.

"I built a patio but he never trusted my carpentry," Darl said. Lee kept suggesting that his son call in professional help the whole time Darl was working on the project.

Jim said his dad would never use a metal tape measure, preferring instead to use an old-style folding wooden ruler.

"He helped us build our house," said Suzy Hixon, David's wife. "And he also worked on some of the grandchildren's homes."

Robin McCusker, Lee's youngest child and only daughter, has a beauty shop that Lee helped her build.

There were other jobs for Lee over the years - Pennsylvania Glass Sand (now U.S. Silica), and a carpenter/work leader for the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

Born on the family farm in 1922, Lee wanted to get back on the farm later in his life. And he did, living there until his passing.

The Hixon family beef cattle farm encompasses about 275 acres and has been designated a Maryland Century Farm because it has been in the same family more than 100 years.

"There are less than 30 of those in the whole state," Darl said.

The farm first came into the family's hands in 1845, bought by Lee's great-grandfather, Joseph Hixon.

David and Suzy live on the property but not in the family home. Their five sons were raised on the farm and were involved in its workings while growing up.

"We're hoping one of the family wants to live there" so the tradition can continue, David said.

Lee and his late wife, Edna, had a long and happy life together until she passed away in 1991. "He and Mom were a real couple," Darl said.

Married before the onset of World War II, Darl and Edna lived in Connecticut for a while until he was shipped out to Europe with the U.S. Army. Edna stayed there briefly and worked in a factory.

Suzy said Lee was lost without Edna and looked to the family to keep everyone together through the years since her death.

Alone on the family farm for the past 17 years, Lee also depended on family to help with the shopping and other chores. Darl praised his sister, Robin, for decorating the house for the holidays the way his mother did when she was alive.

Family to Lee also meant the wives and husbands of his children. "The day after I got engaged to Darl, I felt special," said Dorothy Hixon.

"It wasn't hard to be his son-in-law," said Robin's husband, John.

Lee was an active member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hancock, where he had served on the vestry as junior warden, and was a member of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew.

"He was a true Christian gentleman," said the Rev. Allan Weatherholt. "He and his wife were very supportive of the church. Any time there was something happening at the church, they were here to be a part of it."

Lee was also involved with the Webster B. Harrison American Legion Post 26 of Hancock.

His dedication to his country was surpassed only by his love of family, a love that extended into the next generations - even the youngest could attest to that.

"I love my Farmer Pap," said 2-year-old great-granddaughter Hannah Hixon. "He reads me books and shows me the cows."

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