WESTPORT — Just one week after his legendary Westport eatery closed its doors, Lee Papageorge, owner of Oscar’s Delicatessen, died Monday morning surrounded by his family.

The most recent post on the Oscar’s Deli Facebook page reads, “We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dad — and Westport's greatest hero — Lee earlier this morning. He was not only a part of our family but he was also a part of yours.”

Papageorge ran Oscar’s for 42 years, a place etched in the history of Westport as not only a delicious deli but also as a place where people congregated and made lasting memories.

Papageorge’s daughter Ali Papageorge confirmed her father’s death Monday afternoon. Papageorge was battling lung cancer in a New Haven hospital.

Oscar’s engaged the community in ways other businesses didn’t. The deli, for the past five years held their annual "n’Oscars" party which invited Westporters to pack the deli and answer trivia questions on the Academy Award ceremonies.

Residents remember Papageorge as a beloved member of the community who was warm and welcoming.

"Lee was a kind and generous man who cared dearly about his family and the people he interacted with," said David Waldman, president of David Adam Realty, who worked extensively with Papageorge.

Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-136) said, "Lee had a heart of gold, he loved Westport. He really felt responsible for downtown. If I could describe him in one adjective I would say gentle. He will be missed and I’m personally very sad."

"I’ve been going to Oscars since I was a little kid," Steinberg said. "Oscar’s was an anchor and Lee was an anchor."

Town Operations Director Dewey Loselle said, "It’s a great loss. He was Mr. Downtown—he had an incredible knowledge of the history of downtown and what had been done over the years."

"He had good ideas on how to improve downtown. For years he was the leader of the downtown merchants association and when he saw something that needed to get done he would take the lead, spend his own resources and quietly did what he thought needed to be done to improve downtown," Loselle said. "He was a totally warm and giving person who always had a smile or something good to say."

Paula Mikesh, who was the head chef for Saugatuck Congregational Church, recalls Papageorge lending a helping hand for their holiday feasts.

"He always let us use his walk-in refrigerator and helped us for the Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts," Mikesh said.

@chrismmarquette/ cmarquette@bcnnew.com