In Memory: Harry G. Lee ’47
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.