In a vigorous defense of his fiscal conservatism as governor of Utah, J. Bracken Lee once advised, "Do it honestly, do the best you know how, and let 'em holler!" That statement accurately portrays not only his forceful personality but also the philosophy of government that made him one of the few genuine mavericks in American political history.
J. Bracken Lee was born in Price, Utah, on 7 January 1899, a son of Arthur and Ida May Leiter Lee. Although Lee's ancestors on both sides were active in the Mormon Church, his father was not, and Lee also never belonged to the church.
The Lee family moved to Fruita, Colorado, when Lee was five years old. He attended school there, completing the eighth grade before the family returned to Price. Lee attended Carbon County High School but did not graduate; instead, two months prior to graduation, he enlisted in the army when World War I broke out in April 1917. He served until March 1919, emerging with the rank of sergeant. After leaving the service, he worked for several months as a postal clerk before joining his father in the insurance and real estate business, eventually becoming manager and owner of the agency.