Lee J. Purnell Jr., electrician, dies at 74

August 6, 2013

Lee J. Purnell Jr., an electrician who survived a catastrophic fall at a Metro construction site 30 years ago and later retired from the Government Printing Office, died Aug. 1 at Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham. He was 74.

The cause was complications from bladder cancer, said his wife, Karon Purnell.

Lee Julian Purnell Jr., an Upper Marlboro resident, was born in Los Angeles and came to Washington when he was 12. He went into the Army at 16 and, after serving a few years, graduated from Armstrong High School and attended Howard University.

He began his career with Capitol Electric and later worked for Shasta Electric and other contractors.

Mr. Purnell was supervising work on the Forest Glen Metro station in 1983 when, on a tour of the darkened site with inspectors, he fell into an unmarked 100-foot elevator shaft. A board broke his fall 80 feet down, but a number of his bones were shattered and he suffered a life-threatening concussion.

Family members recalled that he lost much of his memory and recognition — except for details of the station wiring diagrams — for several months. He had to relearn basic functions such as walking during a rehabilitation that took two years.

Mr. Purnell returned to electrical work as a troubleshooter at the GPO, where he retired in the early 2000s.

He was a member for more than 50 years of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and belonged to Unity Center of Light, a church in Bowie. He volunteered with Higher Hopes, a nonprofit organization founded by his son Bruce Purnell that assists troubled children and their families. He bowled with the IBEW and Mixed Nuts bowling leagues. His interests included computer rebuilding.

Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Karon Barnes Purnell of Upper Marlboro; two sons, Lee J. Purnell III of Gaithersburg and Bruce Purnell of Washington; a half-sister; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

— Claudia Levy

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