To sum up Teddy Dee in one word would be an impossible task, according to his wife of 34 years, Patti Dee.
Teddy Dee, owner of Dee’s Variety in New Harbor, passed away Jan. 1, holding Patti’s hand.
“He was my best friend,” Patti said. “People say that all the time, but for us, it was true. We were all lucky to have him here.”
Since Teddy first moved to Lincoln County, he became a part of the community, Patti said. Known as a bit of a jokester, Teddy had the ability to keep people on their toes. Even Patti admitted she didn’t know what was going to come out of her husband’s mouth sometimes.
“Teddy would be very shy, until you got to know him,” Patti said. “And then after that he could just talk to you about almost anything.”
It was this social quality that made Teddy good at his job as owner of Dee’s Variety. Located at 2447 Bristol Rd., Dee’s Variety was opened by Teddy and Patti in 1996. The couple ran the store together for 20 years. Patti woke up at 3 a.m. to open the store, while Teddy would close the store every evening.
Siarra Kear, the general manager of Dee’s Variety, said Teddy could always be found talking to the customers sitting at the counter during a lull in business. When Teddy came in at 6 p.m., he would make a point to chat with a regular at the end of the counter.
“He would lean against the end of the counter in the same way every night to talk with him,” Kear said. “It’s going to take some getting used to, not seeing him there anymore.”
Teddy was diagnosed with renal failure 18 years ago. Through years of dialysis, two kidney transplants, and a restrictive diet, his dedication to the store meant he never missed a day of work, Patti said. On one memorable occasion this past July, Teddy and Kear made 56 pizzas in three hours.
“He never complained, and never let it slow him down,” Patti said. “The store wasn’t just about our livelihood, it was about the people.”
Teddy was also a lover of animals, particularly dogs. Patti said Teddy was sometimes called the “dog whisperer” by those who knew him well.
“Someone could come into the store, and Teddy could tell immediately if they had a dog,” Patti said.
For the dogs who joined their owners in the store, Teddy would give them a piece of ham, pepperoni, or whatever he happened to have at the moment.
“Whenever I went to the store, my dog would go crazy trying to get out of the truck to get inside to see Teddy,” said Billy McLain, of Pemaquid. “I’m sure the girls who worked there wondered why they were always running low on ham.”
To celebrate Teddy’s love of dogs, the family asked that a donation be made in Teddy’s name to the Lincoln County Animal Shelter in lieu of flowers.
Teddy was also known as a handyman. Before opening Dee’s Variety, Teddy worked at Strong Chevrolet in Damariscotta. Teddy, an auto body repairman, taught himself the craft, Patti said.
Eventually, Teddy went into business for himself, opening a body shop in New Harbor with David Mahan. Mahan would work on the mechanics of the vehicle while Teddy worked on the body, Patti said.
Anthony Anderson, of Whitefield, met Teddy at the body shop when Anderson was 11 years old. Anderson lived down the road from the shop and found himself there during summers, learning how to fix cars from Teddy and Mahan.
“They both took me under their wing and became father figures to me,” Anderson said. “Teddy took me to get my first formal suit for prom, and he came to my college and high school graduation.
“I met him when I was 11 years old with no prospects. Now I have great kids and a great wife and he played a large part in my life.”
One winter night, the heater in the truck Kear was driving stopped working. Without Kear asking and without accepting payment, Teddy ordered the necessary part and repaired the heater for her.
“That was just who he was,” Kear said. “He could fix the lights, the gas pumps, anything. He would never ask for anything in return, he was just so generous like that.”
Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. said he always knew Teddy was just a phone call away if he ever needed it.
“If I broke down plowing snow at 1 in the morning, I knew I could call Teddy and he’d be there ready to fix it,” Leeman said. “When people say, ‘He would give you the shirt off his back,’ they meant it literally with Teddy. And he wouldn’t ask for it back either.”
Teddy considered everyone to be family. From hosting Christmas parties with presents for the entire Dee’s Variety staff to opening the store at a moment’s notice if someone needed groceries, he had a way of making everyone feel welcomed and loved.
“We didn’t have kids of our own, but we had a lot of adopted ones,” Patti said.
The town adopted Teddy as well. For Christmas in 2014, Patti surprised Teddy by buying him three tuna rods to use on his new boat, Destiny.
“Everyone in town knew it was his dream to go out on a tuna boat and catch his first tuna, and everyone knew I had gotten him three tuna rods for Christmas,” Patti said. “And everyone in New Harbor kept it a secret from him. That’s how much they cared.”
Since Teddy passed away Jan. 1, Patti said she has experienced an outpouring of support from the community. More than 250 attended the memorial service in his honor at the Strong-Hancock Funeral Home Jan. 9. During the service and the reception that followed, friends and community members shared their favorite Teddy stories.
“Everyone has one Teddy story,” Patti said. “I’m lucky, I have a million and one.”