Harper Lee remembered by a president, publishers and more

Harper Lee in 2007 with President George W. Bush at the White House, where she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Harper Lee in 2007 with President George W. Bush at the White House, where she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Although for decades she only had one published book to her name, Harper Lee influenced generations of readers worldwide who fell in love with her novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Lee, who died on Friday at 89 in her hometown Monroeville, Ala., is being remembered not only by figures in the publishing industry, but by those who were touched by her career and her friendship.

In 2007, Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. Bush issued a statement Monday praising the “legendary novelist and lovely lady.”

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“Harper Lee was ahead of her time, and her masterpiece ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ prodded America to catch up with her,” Bush said. “Laura and I are grateful for Harper Lee and her matchless contributions to humanity and to the character of our country.”


“The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don’t know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness,” Michael Morrison, the president of Lee’s publisher, HarperCollins, said in a statement. “She lived her life the way she wanted to — in private — surrounded by books and the people who loved her. I will always cherish the time I spent with her.”

Lee, called Nelle by those close to her, was also remembered by Mary Badham, the actress who played Scout Finch in the 1962 movie adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and met the author during the making of the film. “Even though Miss Nelle is no longer with us,” Badham said, “her insight into the human conditions so eloquently expressed in her writing will live on and continue to educate and inspire future generations as much as it has for over half a century.”

Lee’s one-time neighbor, Marja Mills, remembered Lee’s “infectious laugh.” Mills, who moved to Monroeville to write “The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee,” said, “I am grateful for the hours I got to spend riding the back roads of Alabama with Nelle and her sister Alice, listening to the stories of their family, that land, its history, and its people. I will always be grateful to have known Nelle in the last years of life as she had known it for so long, sharing their father’s house with her sister in the town that inspired ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’”

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The book’s towering position in the literary world was reflected in a statement by Barnes & Nobel Chief Executive Ron Boire’s statement. “Today we mourn the passing of Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Harper Lee. Her masterpiece, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ was a defining novel of the 20th century and remains a timeless classic,” he said. “She leaves behind a legacy in literature for all generations.”

Lee was a legendary figure all across the country, but especially in her home state of Alabama. Gov. Robert Bentley remembered Lee in a statement, saying, “Harper Lee’s literary impact reaches far beyond the borders of our state and nation .... Harper Lee’s legacy will live on as we introduce Scout, Jem, Atticus and Lee’s beloved Macomb to future generations. I join Alabamians in praying for Harper Lee’s family and the city of Monroeville in the difficult days ahead.”

Writer and director Aaron Sorkin, who is adapting “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a Broadway play, said, “Like millions of others, I was saddened to learn this morning of the passing of Harper Lee, one of America’s most beloved authors. I’m honored to have the opportunity to adapt her seminal novel for the stage.”

Lee’s agent, Andrew Nurnberg, had seen Lee a few weeks ago. “Knowing Nelle these past few years has been not just an utter delight but an extraordinary privilege,” he said. “When I saw her just six weeks ago, she was full of life, her mind and mischievous wit as sharp as ever. She was quoting Thomas More and setting me straight on Tudor history. We have lost a great writer, a great friend and a beacon of integrity.”


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