Esteemed philanthropist, visionary and beloved community leader Robert (Bob) H. Lee, CM, OBC, is one of UBC’s most exemplary alumni. Bob has dedicated much of his life, expertise and resources to building a brighter future for British Columbians and Canadians, and he embodies the mission of UBC and its vision for its alumni. He is a most worthy recipient of the 2018 Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education (CCAE) Friend of Education Award.
Bob was born and raised in Vancouver. He learned the traditional Confucian values of humility, modesty, honesty, studiousness, and social duty from his father, Ronald Bick Lee. These values are deeply ingrained in him and have had a significant impact on his success later in life. After graduating in 1956 with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, he embarked on a successful career in real estate and founded the Prospero Group of Companies.
Over the years, Bob has contributed significantly to the city of Vancouver and the province of BC, and has touched the lives of many. He has set the bar for community involvement through tireless commitment to many organizations, including the Robert Lee YMCA, the Robert & Lily Lee Family Community Health Centre and the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. In 2017, Bob became the honorary Chair of the YMCA’s What Really Matters $140 million capital campaign to serve 200,000 more people by creating four new centres of community in Surrey, Vancouver, Coquitlam, and Chilliwack. Bob is past director of many companies, the most notable being Wall Financial Corporation, B.C. Telephone Co. (Telus), Crown Life Insurance Corp., and CN Railway. He is a member of the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada.
Bob has been extremely devoted to the service of his alma mater starting at the board level since 1984 when he began serving two terms on the UBC Board of Governors from 1984 to 1990. He was then elected chancellor in 1993. He was also chair of the UBC Foundation, and honorary chair of UBC’s start an evolution campaign which raised more than $1.6 billion and engaged 130,000 alumni in support of transformative education, groundbreaking research and community education. UBC awarded Bob an honorary doctorate degree in 1996, in 2006 UBC established the Robert H. Lee Graduate School at the Sauder School of Business in recognition of Bob and his family’s generous gift to support graduate business education, and the university named the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre in his honour; it opened in 2015.
The greatest of Bob’s many contributions to UBC, and the one of which he is most proud, is the creation of UBC Properties Trust, which he founded in 1988 and where he served as chairman for 23 years. The trust was the first in North America to sell market housing on a university campus on leased land, allowing UBC to maintain ownership of the land while earning the university over $1.35 billion dollars to date, and a projected $4 billion dollars in perpetuity. Bob’s vision has inspired similar projects at universities around the world, making this one of the single most influential ideas for bolstering education funding in recent history.