Benefactor Charles R. Lee ’61, trustee emeritus, dies at 82

Charles R. “Chuck” Lee ’61, trustee emeritus and a foremost Cornell benefactor, died May 13. He was 82.

Lee was one of the university’s most active and generous ambassadors, and a tireless advocate for  deeper connections across Cornell’s campuses and alumni communities.

“Chuck Lee’s service to Cornell, over the course of four decades, left an impact that will be felt for generations,” President Martha E. Pollack said. “His dedication to the university was as unwavering as it was tireless, and extended to every corner of the Cornell community.”

Charles R. Lee ’61

Lee was elected to the Cornell University Council in 1986 and as a trustee fellow on the Cornell University Board of Trustees in 1989. As a Cornell trustee, he chaired the board’s audit committee and served on the finance committee. He also served on the advisory councils for the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and the College of Engineering.

As a trustee emeritus, Lee continued to serve on the board’s audit committee and the College of Engineering advisory council. He was elected to Weill Cornell Medicine’s Board of Fellows in 2003 and remained actively engaged with Weill Cornell Medicine for more than 20 years, serving on the board’s committees for business and finance, clinical affairs/physician organization and external relations.

In 2004, he and his wife, Ilda, established a $3 million endowment at Weill Cornell Medicine to create the Lee Family Scholarship, which supports medical students who are also pursuing an MBA at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Lee chaired the Metro New York Tower Club and National Tower Club Challenges, and was an instrumental leader in “The Cornell Campaign: Creating the Future” as an Annual Fund volunteer from 1988-95.

As a class volunteer, Lee served as vice president of the Class of 1961 from 1991-01, and on his class council until 2006. He also co-chaired the major gifts committee for his 25th Reunion campaign and served on the major gifts committee for his 40th Reunion.

He and Ilda established the Ilda and Charles Lee Professorship of Engineering in 1992 and the Ilda and Charles R. Lee/McMullen Scholarship for the College of Engineering in 1999. They were honored by Cornell in 1994 as Foremost Benefactors for their many other contributions.

Said Clifford R. Pollock, the Ilda and Charles Lee Professor of Engineering: “Chuck was always upbeat and enthusiastic about life and especially Cornell. I felt immediately adopted into his Cornell family upon becoming the Ilda and Charles Lee Professor of Engineering. Chuck was a naturally friendly person and gave me great advice. I will miss him.”

Recognized as a pioneer in the telecommunications field, Lee delivered the Durland Lecture in 1993 and the Robert Hatfield Lecture in 1999 – becoming one of only three individuals to have been invited to present at both of Cornell’s most prestigious business speaking events.

Lee was born Feb. 15, 1940, in Wexford, Pennsylvania and grew up in the Pittsburgh area. He earned his bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering from Cornell and his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1964. He began his business career with United States Steel Corporation in 1964.

In 1983, Lee joined GTE Corporation, where he served as president, CEO and chairman. He shepherded the company through its merger with Bell Atlantic to form Verizon Communications, Inc., in 2000 and served as chairman and co-CEO of Verizon until his retirement in 2002.

In addition to wife Ilda, Lee is survived by five children, including Dana Lee Evans ’86, and 16 grandchildren, including Eric Lee ’20 and Julia Evans ’22.

Starr Todd is a writer for Alumni Affairs and Development.

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