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Sammie Lee West aka "Pee Wee", was best known for his popular TV Show, "15 Minutes of Fame and Fortune", and for his photos which appeared in Milton Rogovin's celebrated book Triptchs. Our beloved Pee Wee, who had dedicated his life to working with young poeplle over the years.
His camera was his weapon of choise. Saving the children his personal crusade. Sammie Lee West, better known as "Pee Wee", devoted his life to giving young people alternatives to the streets.
He died at the age of 66. Funeral services were held at True Bethel Baptist Church on Tuesday (March 21, 2006). The church was packed with children and local dignitaries including Mayor Byron W. Brown, Council Members and Legislators. A special community memorial was held in his honor on Saturday, April 8, 2006 at the Apollo Media Center.
The President and Founder of the West Side Junior Neighborhood Advisory Council and Founder?Director of a number of shows on public access cable television, Pee Wee said in a 2001 Challenger Community News cover story that his one goal in life was to "save young children's minds from drugs and crime." It was a life he unfortunately had to endure personally for many years before finding his purpose.
Pee Wee was involved with street youth activities and consulted a number of youth groups in the city. It was not unusual to see him take youths on a summer trip to Six Flag or Darien Lake theme park, complete with a cook-out and t-shirts. Free passes to roller skating parties provided by West, courtesy of sponsors, were common. At one time there was even a "Pee Wee's Fan Club". But he was probably best known for his popular TV show, "15 Minutes of Fame and Fortune", which aired every Friday night and starred our youth; providing them with a platform to showcase their talent.
He worked hard to earn his "celebrity" status on Buffalo's West Side and East Side as well. Everybody knew Pee Wee, and he knew everybody. He was perhaps photographer Milton Rogovin's most famous subject in the book Tripthcs: Buffalo's lower West Side Revisited. Bsck in 2001, Time Magazine did a piece on Rogovin and his work, and interviewed Pee Wee. It was a proud moment for him.
Born in Montezuma, Georgia about 20 miles from Macon, Georgia, he moved to Buffalo where he settled on the West Side when he was 14 years old. He said it was his Hispanic friends who gave him the name Pee Wee. "They were all taller than me... I was small and they would say, 'where's that Pee Wee guy?' It just stuck with me. "Life was colorful , but often deadly.
It took me 27 years to break the alcohol habit, "he noted in the Challenger interview. "A certification from the Alcohol Service of Erie County , he said, was his most prized award. Receiving it in 1986, he said, was the happiest day of his life. "But I had to die to get that award". he said referring to 1985 when he drank a hole in his pancreas, only to survive being declared dead and taken to the morgue.
"I woke up in recovery with my father and mother-in-law over me. She told me right there, 'Sammie, the Lord got something for you to do...The Lord brought you back.' I told the Lord I would tell kids what alcohol did to me."
Written by Alnisa Banks for the Challenger Community News.