Harry G. Lee ’47, former president of the VMI Board of Visitors and the VMI Alumni Association, died June 27, 2019. He was 93. Born in Richmond in 1925, he graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1943 and matriculated at VMI later that year. Like many cadets of wartime VMI, he soon departed the Institute in order to serve his country. In 1944, Lee entered the U.S. Navy’s officer training program at Columbia University and was soon commissioned an ensign. Trained in naval diving and salvage training, Lee served on the rescue and salvage ship, the USS Preserver (ARS-8), which deployed to the Pacific Theater in 1944 and was part of the fleet supporting Operation Crossroads, the atomic bomb tests that took place at Bikini Atoll in July 1946. Later in 1946, despite being offered a bachelor’s degree in engineering by Columbia University, he returned to VMI and finished his degree in civil engineering, graduating with his class in 1947.
Having remained in the U.S. Naval Reserve, he was recalled to active duty during the Korean War and served two years on the USS Hoist (ARS-40) in the Atlantic Fleet. Lee often asserted that his naval service and his military training at VMI contributed significantly to his success as an engineer and businessman.
In 1948, Lee received his Professional Engineer’s license and joined his father’s architectural firm, Merrill C. Lee & Associates. He joined the construction firm of Doyle & Russell, Inc. the next year as a project manager, responsible for the execution of many important construction jobs, culminating with the building of the University of Virginia’s Main Hospital in the late 1950s.
In 1961, Lee and David Kjellstrom founded Kjellstrom & Lee, a general contracting firm specializing in commercial, industrial and medical construction in central Virginia. Lee was the company’s executive vice president. An influential leader in the construction industry in Virginia, he was active in the Associated General Contractors of Virginia and later served as the organization’s president. In 1986, he retired from Kjellstrom & Lee but, as a consultant, played a major role in several significant projects, including Riverfront Plaza in Richmond and the Memorial Regional Medical Center in Hanover County.
Lee somehow found the time to be involved in numerous civic activities, as well. He served for decades on the board of directors of the Sheltering Arms Hospital Foundation and was its president from 1989-91. He also had a long association with Westminster Canterbury Richmond, serving as a director of the corporation and the president of its supporting foundation. For his service to the latter, he received its Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Award for Distinguished Voluntary Leadership Service. Described as “a very dedicated Episcopalian,” he was a trustee of the Church Schools in the Diocese of Virginia and served as a vestryman and leaders of the associated Boy Scout troop of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Richmond.
“Nobody loved VMI more than Harry Lee, and his devotion to making it stronger was unflagging."Thomas G. Slater Jr. '66 Former President, Board of Visitors, VMI Alumni Association
An ardent admirer of Gen. George C. Marshall ’901, he devoted a large share of his talent and time to the George C. Marshall Foundation, serving on its board for many years. Through this service, he strengthened the organization’s ability to perpetuate Marshall’s legacy of winning “both the war and the peace” and to pursue its mission of acquainting young people across the country with Marshall’s sterling leadership qualities and exemplary character.
A loyal alumnus and a great advocate of VMI, Lee served the Institute and the VMI Alumni Agencies faithfully for many years. He was active with the VMI Club of Richmond and led it for several years. He became the second vice president of the VMI Alumni Association in 1969 and its first vice president in 1972. In 1973, he succeeded Elmon T. Gray ’47, his brother rat and former roommate, as the Association’s president. He held that position until Gov. Miles Godwin appointed him to the VMI Board of Visitors in 1977. Lee was on that board for eight years, the final two as the board’s president. He served as an ex-officio and regular trustee of the VMI Foundation for various periods from 1973-95. In 1996, the VMI Foundation presented Lee with its highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award. His citation described him, among many things as “a civic-minded resident of Richmond, Virginia, and a leader among the alumni of his alma mater.”
Thomas G. Slater Jr. ’66, who, like Lee, was president of the Board of Visitors and the VMI Alumni Association and received the Distinguished Service Award, said of him, “I got to know Harry Lee when I arrived in Richmond as a young lawyer in the late ’60s. Along with Frank Louthan ’41, Jim Wheat ’41 and Harry Easterly ’44, he formed what you might call the ‘senior cadre’ of VMI alumni in the city. To me and many other alumni, he was a wise adviser and a real mentor who always was eager to help us get established.”
“Nobody loved VMI more than Harry Lee,” Slater continued, “and his devotion to making it stronger was unflagging. A top-notch leader in every way, as member of the Board of Visitors and later its president, he was instrumental in guiding VMI through the often daunting challenges of the 1970s and 1980s. He also was dedicated to ensuring that the VMI Alumni Association was well-positioned to serve alumni and the Institute. As the longtime chairman of its board’s nominating committee, for example, he played a major role in recruiting top-notch alumni to the association’s leadership.”
Lee is survived by his wife of 71 years, Elizabeth Cheves Lee, and their five children, James M. Lee, E. Preston Lee, Hope L. Marshall (whose husband is John Marshall ’77), Harry G. Lee Jr. ’81 and Melinda C. Lee, as well as 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects
The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.