Some movers and shakers come from humble beginnings.
Such is the life of Hugh A. Lee, a vital link in the chain that’s grown into our corner of the globe here in Richmond County.
Hugh Alfred Lee, 91, a founding member of Richmond Community College and long-time attorney, passed away Dec. 2, leaving friends and family to recall his long and full life, and how his presence impacted the lives of countless people in Richmond County and beyond — in decades past and future.
Lee was born in Maggie Valley, a dot on the map that is tucked into the remote ruggedness of the Smoky Mountains. His was a simple life at the start, and those austere beginnings helped carve out Lee’s thirst for and appreciation of education.
“He was dedicated to education because he grew up in the mountains in the ’30s and ’40s. He saw what the Depression did to people and he really wanted them to have an education,” said his good friend J.C. Lamm of Rockingham.
“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 … ,” Lamm said.
Lee attended Western Carolina University and the U.S. 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.
He served in World War II and the Korean War and had achieved the rank of major before his discharge. He practiced law in Richmond County for more than a quarter century, and served as a member of the N.C. House of Representatives from 1982 to 1984 and from 1993 until 1997.
In 1964 he was appointed to the Richmond Community College Board of Trustees by then Governor Terry Sanford, and he served continuously as board chair until his death.
Lamm worked closely with Lee at RCC, as Dean of Students for 17 years, and as a member of the Board of Trustees on which Lamm has served since 1982 until now, with the exception of a four-year hiatus.
Lamm believes Lee saw education as a way for people to help themselves better their lives. He said Lee made sure his family all received an education, and currently has a grandchild in his second year at a Coast Guard academy, and another grandchild is studying at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Our community college always held a special place in Mr. Lee’s heart.
RCC President Dale McInnis was close friends with Lee and saw him as a mentor.
“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 said.
We are lucky to have Richmond Community College in our backyard, and we were lucky to have had Hugh Lee as our neighbor.
Thank you, Mr. Lee.