A founding member of Richmond Community College and long-time trustee chairman, Hugh A. Lee, has died.
Lee’s death came Sunday following a brief illness. He was 91.
There is a visitation planned for today from 6 until 8 p.m. at the Cole Auditorium.
Friends and colleagues described Lee as a champion of education.
“This is the end of an era,”RCC President Dr. Dale McInnis said in a statement. “Mr. Lee was a great man from the Greatest Generation. Throughout our college’s 48 year history, Mr. Lee is the only unbroken thread, connecting us to our roots and focusing us on our mission. He liked to quote his friend Terry Sanford that RCC is the ‘people’s college,’ and that we have a special trust and responsibility to the people of Richmond and Scotland counties.”
McInnis added that he felt as if he had lost a family member.
“I will always be indebted to Mr. Lee for the patience, faith, and friendship he showed me, and for the opportunity to be here at RCC,” he said. “He was a great leader and mentor, and our college will miss him deeply.”
A native of Maggie Valley, Lee attended Western Carolina University and the United States Merchant Marine Academy. He received his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his LL.B. and Juris Doctorate from Duke University.
In 1964 he was appointed to the Richmond Community College Board of Trustees by Gov. Terry Sanford, and he served continuously as board chair until his death.
J.C. Lamm who worked closely with Lee at RCC, as dean of students for 17 years, and as a fellow trustee member, said Lee was a “man of compassion and conviction.”
“He was dedicated to education because he grew up in the mountains in the ’30s and ’40s,” Lamm said. “He saw what the Depression did to people and he really wanted them to have an education. He felt strongly for the little man; he was very supportive of people who didn’t have a lot. I’m sure his time in the Legislature was devoted to education … .”
In 1989, Lee received an honorary associate in arts degree from the college for his service. In 1990, the Lee Building was named in his honor. In 1995, he received the Association of Community College Trustees Lifetime Membership Award at a national convention in Seattle, Wash. In 2001, he was named the Richmond Community College Foundation Citizen of the Year. In 2012, he was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Governor Beverly Perdue.
Lee always attributed the success of his leadership to good members and to promoting discussion on issues that might otherwise not get proper attention. He also felt he was able to steer the college out of factional and partisan politics both within and without the institution.
“Awards are earned collectively, but given individually,” Lee said. “No person could have been more blessed with better trustees. I owe a debt of thanks to all trustees past and present.”
Lee practiced law in Richmond County for more than 50 years, and served as a member of the state House of Representatives from 1982 to 1984 and from 1993 until 1997. He also served in World War II and the Korean War and had achieved the rank of major before his discharge.
“I remember him as just a whole lot of fun,” said Joe Davis, who practiced law with Lee for more than 40 years. “He was my law partner. He was always good company. He never lost his common touch. We laughed a lot together.”
His funeral is Thursday at 11 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Rockingham.