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Written By:

W. Lee Nichols

OBITUARY: W. Lee Nichols

Lee Nichols believed that life is a daring adventure towards an unknown future, that life’s beauty depended on how much he enjoyed the journey. His journey was enjoyable to the end. 

Lee believed the grandest adventure is life itself. His adventure began on August 11, 1940, at his family’s home in Spencer, West Virginia, as the youngest of four sons of Poe Nichols and Stacel Webb Starcher.  

His mother died as a result of childbirth, so Lee was raised by his mother’s aunt, whom he called “Grandmother,” in West Virginia. He was raised on a 200-acre farm, being tutored by a retired teacher until he enrolled in high school.

After graduating high school in 1958, Lee spent nearly four years at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas, working as a cryptologist. While in the Air Force, he met Grace “Niki” von Tschirschky. They were married on September 1, 1963, in San Antonio. They have two children, Anthony, and Christina.

Leaving military espionage behind, Lee ventured into the hospitality industry. He was sent to Chicago to work because of his cooking skills, which he learned from his grandmother. 

Lee then spent two years in extensive training in fine dining, which led to Lee becoming a butler, first for Rankin Smith, the founding owner of the NFL Atlanta Falcons and later for West Virginia U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller. He then worked for another family, who became his family.

Moving north to Andrews, North Carolina, Lee opened Cole House Restaurant; he made the restaurant famous with one very popular dish: Mountain Trout Almondine. 

In 2011, Lee was diagnosed with cancer. He let the restaurant go to travel the world. One of the reasons people love to travel is discovery. Lee wanted to learn about the world around him – and more about himself.

Six months after cancer surgery Lee walked the entire Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage from the French border to the western coast of Spain. It inspired him to write, Talking With Cats: A Journey of Spirit, Healing and Wisdom on the Camino de Santiago. A second 500-mile trek was made three years later.

After his second pilgrimage, Lee traveled Europe, Turkey, India, Southeast Asia, and parts of South America. He found the place he called home in 2017, in the El Rito area of Questa, NM. Three years later, in the middle of the COVID pandemic, Lee and Niki moved south to Cuenca, Ecuador. The historic city in the Andes mountains was perfect to enjoy life the way it should be. Lee made many new friends, who celebrated life with him in his final years and loved him dearly. Abhijit Naskar said, “There is a difference between how you live your life, and what you do with your life.”  Lee Nichols knew what to do with his life… a full and rewarding one.

Lee is survived by Niki Nichols in Cuenca, Ecuador, their son Anthony, his wife Susan, and daughter Harper Nichols in Oslo, Norway, daughter Christina Nichols in Florida, and her children Nicole Bryant and her daughter Harper Brannon in Florida, Christopher and his wife Alaina Bryan in North Carolina, Fred and his wife Peg Nichols, Don and his wife Jean Nichols and his “butler” family: Lisa Lai in Hawaii, Kevin Ye in Atlanta, Georgia, Kylie Ye in Hawaii, and many friends around the world.

Lee wrote Around the Bend: A Nomad’s Journey, about his experience on the Camino de Santiago, view it here on page 18 of the April 2020 edition of Questa Del Rio News https://questanews.com/april-2020-pdf/
Talking With Cats: A Journey of Spirit, Healing and Wisdom on the Camino de Santiago, By W. Lee Nichols, available on Amazon. Read Questa Del Rio News’ book review on page 26 in the May 2020 edition at https://questanews.com/may-2020-pdf/