Ocean City Today

Skip and Devon Lee, Colby Phillips on OC Beach Patrol

Veteran guards have many roles, while surf rescue technicians help save lives
By Kara Hallissey | Oct 05, 2017

This story is part of an ongoing series about Ocean City Beach Patrol members and their other jobs. Ocean City lifeguards will return to their stands next season.

(Oct. 6, 2017) First Lt. Walter “Skip” Lee, his son, Devon, and Sgt. Colby Phillips spent their summer employed by the Ocean City Beach Patrol in different roles.

“The sense of satisfaction is hard to describe, knowing I had something to do or played a part in supporting someone else saving a life,” Skip Lee said. “I get tearful watching it happen on a busy day and seeing our guards doing what they are trained to do. Knowing I directed and taught them – it’s a work of art.”

After five years of guarding the Ocean City beach and making rescues, Lee was given the responsibility, along with Lt. Ward Kovacs and two other lifeguards, to build the criteria and requirements for the training academy.

“I am still friends with people I guarded with to this day,” Lee said.

Kovacs and Lt. Mike Stone are the godfathers to two of Lee’s children, while Capt. Butch Arbin was in his wedding to wife, Kristen, who was an Ocean City surf beach facilitator in 1989.

“In the beginning, making rescues was my favorite part of the job,” Lee said. “I stopped keeping track when I reached 1,500 and that was about 15 years ago.”

Since 1989, Lee, 53, from Severn, Maryland, has administered the lifeguard test for surf-rescue technicians and has only missed a few in 28 years. He is also responsible for inter-squad competitions.

“The opportunity I have to use my God-given abilities has kept me coming back year after year,” Lee said. “Knowing what I am doing can help people is a blessing and a mission.”

During the summer of 1982, Lee came to Ocean City for senior week and had graduated just days before, when he asked a resort lifeguard on Second Street what he had to do to pass the test.

After completing the tasks, Lee told Ocean City Beach Patrol employees and they had him repeat the process in front of them. Lee passed the test and called his parents to let them know he was staying in Ocean City for the summer.

“My mom asked, ‘Where are you going to live?’ and ‘What are you going to eat?’” Lee said. “I said, ‘I don’t know, but I am staying.’ Thirty-five years later, I am still doing it.”

Lee went to college to be a physical education teacher and spent eight years at Corkran Middle School in Glen Burnie, before 10 years at Chesapeake High School in Pasadena. In 2005, Lee was the Ann Arundel Teacher of the Year and National Physical Educational Teacher of the Year.

From 2007-2014, he was the coordinator for physical education, health and dance in Ann Arundel County, before spending the last four years as the director of curriculum and innovative design for Ann Arundel County.

“It was a perfect complement to the lifestyle I lived and the person I am,” Lee said.

Devon Lee, 20, of Pasadena, Maryland, decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and try out for the Ocean City Beach Patrol at age 17, after working at a beach stand for three summers. He failed the test on his first try.

“I wanted to see what it was like and my dad has talked about it my whole life,” Devon said. “I talked with other guards and they said it was the best choice they made in life.”

This summer marked his third year as a surf rescue technician. He said saving lives was the most rewarding part of the job.

“I wanted to do something important in the summer, like saving lives,” Devon said. “Once you do this job, you are forever changed.”

Devon loves waking up and going to the beach for work. Each day, he does so among some of his best friends.

“The best part about the job is the people,” Devon said. “You meet a lot of successful, smart, funny, professional and awesome people who all come together for the summer. It’s pretty sweet I have a front row seat to the ocean every day.”

Devon is in his junior year at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., studying mechanical engineering. He is also in the Naval ROTC and spent time on an aircraft carrier last summer.

Phillips, 43, from Annapolis, Maryland, has been a member of the Ocean City Beach Patrol for 24 years.

“Beach Patrol is part of my family even though I am limited after two decades,” Phillips said. “I love and appreciate they have allowed me to remain and be in my role when I am available.”

Phillips organizes, orders and issues equipment and uniform inventory, in addition to getting all Beach Patrol employees ready for the summer. She was also responsible for starting the women’s competition team.

“My favorite part is the rewarding feeling you get when everyone goes home on a busy day,” Phillips said. “Saving lives is a good feeling and scary at times. The family atmosphere and unity is what I love most about the job.”

Phillips met a couple of lifeguards while working at a beach stand in 1993 and they talked her into trying out in August for employment the following summer.

“I started in 1994 and there was only eight women,” Phillips said. “People think they can’t do it, but they would be surprised. It is a great and life-changing job in a positive way and if anyone is thinking about it, they should do it. It is a lot of fun and I feel very blessed. It is a great community and becomes a part of your life.”

Phillips helped with special events for the Town of Ocean City for nine years and was a police dispatcher for two winters.

For more than three years, Phillips has been the aquatics director for Ocean Pines and added recreation director to her credentials last year. She works with a budget and team to bring programs and amenities to Ocean Pines.

“I am blessed in both opportunities,” Phillips said. “Beach Patrol gets in your blood. Even when I go to North Carolina, I carry my buoy in the car. It is nice to love what you do.”

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