In his 45 years at Wayne State University, Lee was an inspirational teacher and a valued faculty member, generously sharing his time and wisdom with students and colleagues.
Leon “Lee” Warshay was a beloved college professor, a published author, a self-proclaimed feminist and, above all, a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Lee, who lived in Royal Oak, died peacefully at home on Sept. 18, 2022. He was 94.
Lee was born in 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of two Hebrew school teachers. When Lee was 5, his father, a fervent Zionist, moved the family to Israel, settling in the small farming village of Gedera. When Lee’s father died unexpectedly two years after they arrived, his mother brought Lee and his younger brother, Marvin, back to the United States to live with her family in Brooklyn.
As a result, Lee referred to himself as “twice an immigrant.” He attended the Yeshiva of Flatbush, became an avid Yankees fan and developed a lifelong love of baseball.
Years later, his daughter-in-law, Shaina Warshay, remembers Lee singing versions of Hebrew Passover songs he learned from the rabbi at the Yeshiva as a boy at the Yeshiva of Flatbush.
After graduating from Brooklyn College, he earned a master’s degree in sociology at University of Chicago and began a Ph.D. program at Indiana University. His studies were interrupted by the Korean War, and, after serving two years stateside, he finished his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota.
At Indiana University he met Diana, whom he called “the most impressive person I have ever known.” During their 70-year marriage, they attended sociology conferences throughout the world, raised two sons and delighted as their family grew to encompass 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
After teaching stints at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Ohio State University, Lee accepted a position at Wayne State University, and the Warshays moved to Detroit in 1969. Here, he became active in Zionist causes, serving as president of the Detroit Zionist Federation for several years and visiting Israel several times. His sons, Jonathan and Nathaniel, have fond memories of going to baseball games at Tiger Stadium with their dad, and playing catch and “running bases” in the backyard of their Detroit home.
In his 45 years at Wayne State University, Lee was an inspirational teacher and a valued faculty member, generously sharing his time and wisdom with students and colleagues. He published two books on sociological theory, numerous articles in academic journals and wrote a chapter for Social Approaches to Sport, a book by Robert Pankin, an accomplishment that prompted a coveted interview with one of his local heroes, Ernie Harwell.
He was an avid reader with an impressive store of knowledge on a variety of topics, including Israel, history, politics and, of course, baseball. He loved corny puns and old-time Jewish jokes.
“My father was known for his sense of humor,” said his son Jonathan. “He passed that down to me and my brother. We watched many Marx Brothers movies together, learning many of the lines by heart.”
Lee loved children, especially babies, and his face lit up whenever one of his grandchildren or great-grandchildren entered the room.
“He was always smiling, always full of love,” said his grandson Aaron, who enjoyed their discussions on philosophy, science and sociology. Lee was a staunch champion of women’s rights. Whether he wore a suit jacket or a flannel shirt, his trademark accessory was a pin reading “75 cents,” the amount women earned for every dollar men were paid for comparable jobs. He put his principles into action, supporting Diana as she earned her Ph.D. in Sociology and pursued a career that required long hours away from home.
“The pin was just the surface of his feminism and activism,” said his granddaughter Anna. “He would always express the importance of following our dreams and to get everything we want in the world no matter our gender.”
He loved music, Frank Sinatra classics and show tunes. His oldest granddaughter Alyssa remembers how he would dance her around the room with a Bing Crosby record on the turntable.
“I always found it to be so inspirational the way Saba dedicated his heart and soul to everything he did. From his signature green pin to his passion for Israel and his love for teaching and researching sociological theory, and ultimately, to his wife and family,” said his granddaughter Anna.
Contributions in memory of Lee Warshay may be made to The Dorothy & Peter Brown Jewish Community Adult Day Care Program, 6720 W. Maple Road, West Bloomfield, MI 48322, (248) 661-6390; to the League of Women Voters, 725 S. Adams Road, Suite L-144, Birmingham, MI 48009, (248) 594-6602; or Planned Parenthood of Michigan, P.O. Box 3673, Ann Arbor, MI 48106, (855) 896-4966.
Leon “Lee” Warshay is survived by his wife of 70 years, Diana; sons, Jonathan (Ronelle Grier) Warshay and Nathaniel (Shaina) Warshay; grandchildren, Alyssa (Erin) Hawks-Warshay, Aaron (Colette) Warshay, Arielle (Norbert) Wroblewski, Jonah Warshay, Madeleine (Abraham) Truitt, David Warshay, Anna Warshay, Maayan Warshay, Assaf Warshay, Avigail Warshay and Gavriel Warshay; great-grandchildren, Julian Hawks-Warshay, Amari Hawks-Warshay, Jasmine Hawks-Warshay and Dalia Truitt. He was the brother of the late Marvin (Ieda) Warshay. Arrangements by The Dorfman Chapel.