Harris Community Award honors Lees for dedication to improving St. Louis region

For the sixth year, a husband and wife couple were recognized for their extraordinary service to the St. Louis region with the Jane and Whitney Harris St. Louis Community Service Award. This year, the honor was bestowed upon Mary Ann and E. Desmond “Des” Lee, who as individuals and as a couple have been great citizens of St. Louis and have given back to their community in a host of ways.

The award, which is administered by Washington University, was presented by Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton at a ceremony on April 7 at the Harbison House. Winners receive a $25,000 gift for the St. Louis charity of their choice. The Lees’ gift will benefit the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and Springboard to Learning.

In establishing the award in 1999, Whitney Harris and his late wife, Jane, said they wished to reward and recognize couples who are as dedicated to improving the St. Louis area as they were.

In a community where regional pride and philanthropy are hallmarks, the Lees stand out. Mary Ann Lee is involved in a number of local organizations and serves on the boards of the John Burroughs School, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Springboard to Learning, Sheldon Theatre, and Forest Park Forever. The addition of the new Grand Basin fountains and the illumination of the statue of Saint Louis enhance the newly renovated Forest Park, thanks to her generosity.

Helping St. Louis’ youngest citizens is also a priority, and she gives her time and resources to help them succeed by being active in the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club and Junior Achievement. Another favorite project is WiseWrite, a collaborative playwriting program that promotes literacy.

For her dedication and service, Mary Ann Lee has received the Variety Club’s “Woman of the Year” award, the Hiram W. Leffingwell Award from Forest Park Forever, and together with her husband, the 2004 NAACP Humanitarian Award.

Des Lee’s philanthropic interests are very broad-based. A number of organizations count on him as a member of their boards. These include the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Clubs, St. Luke’s Hospital, United Way of Greater St. Louis, and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. At Washington University and the University of Missouri – St. Louis, he has established several professorships with the purpose of creating new collaborations to serve society, and in particular the underserved communities within the metropolitan area.

Des Lee graduated from Washington University in 1940 with a business degree. The year before his graduation, he co-founded the Lee/Rowan Company, which became a leading manufacturer of storage and organizational products. For the last twelve years of his retirement, he has devoted his time and talents to charitable causes.

Among his many awards are Washington University’s Robert S. Brookings Award, an honorary degree in Humane Letters from the University of Missouri – St. Louis, the Martin Luther King Local Philanthropy Award and the NAACP Humanitarian Award twice. In 1995 he was included in Worth Magazine’s “100 Most Generous Americans,” and in 1999 he was named “St. Louis Philanthropist of the Year.”

“Thousands of people are touched daily by the generosity of Mary Ann and Des Lee,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “From enhancing the experience of a visit to Forest Park to enhancing the educational experiences in our schools and universities, St. Louis is a much better place because of them. It is a distinct pleasure to thank them for all their good works.”

Springboard to Learning is an organization that motivates, stimulates and inspires children to learn more about themselves and the world in which they live. It provides 150 cultural and diversity programs annually to more then 15,000 school children in St. Louis city and county schools.

The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra is an internationally-renowned ensemble that performs an expansive repertoire and participates in a strong community partnership that supplements and complements other music-oriented educational initiatives.

Also in attendance at the ceremony were Whitney Harris, his wife, Anna, and his son, Eugene.

Lou Fusz, Jr., chairs the award selection committee for the Harris prize. Each fall the committee considers nominations submitted from the St. Louis community. In addition to the cash prize for a favorite charity, Harris award recipients also receive an inscribed work of art.

Past winners are: Marilyn and Sam Fox for the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts (2004), the late Elizabeth and William Danforth for the Women’s Society of Washington University (2003), Ann and Lee Liberman for Forest Park Forever (2002), Alice and the late Leigh Gerdine for the St. Louis Black Repertory Co. (2001), Lucy and the late Stanley Lopata for Habitat for Humanity (2000).