Mary Ann & Des Lee honored by Harris community service award

A husband-and-wife couple has again been recognized with the Jane and Whitney Harris St. Louis Community Serice Award, now in its sixth year.

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton is flanked by Mary Ann and E. Desmond
Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton is flanked by Mary Ann and E. Desmond “Des” Lee at a recent Harbison House ceremony honoring the Lees as this year’s recipients of the Jane and Whitney Harris St. Louis Community Service Award. 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.

This year, the honor was bestowed upon Mary Ann and E. Desmond “Des” Lee. As individuals and as a couple, they have been extraordinary citizens of St. Louis and have given back to their community in a host of ways.

The award, which is administered by the University, was presented by Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton at a recent Harbison House ceremony.

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 dedicated to improving the St. Louis area.

In a community where regional pride and philanthropy are hallmarks, the Lees stand out.

“Thousands of people are touched daily by the generosity of Mary Ann and Des Lee,” 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.”

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, the Sheldon Theatre and Forest Park Forever.

The addition of the new Grand Basin fountains and the illumination of the statue of St. Louis enhance the newly renovated Forest Park, thanks to her generosity.

Helping St. Louis’ youngest citizens also is 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 broad. A number of organizations — including the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, St. Luke’s Hospital, United Way of Greater St. Louis and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra — count him as a member of their boards.

At WUSTL 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 WUSTL in 1940 with a business degree. The year before his graduation, he co-founded the Lee/Rowan Co., which became a leading manufacturer of storage and organizational products.

For the past 12 years, he has devoted his time and talents to charitable causes.

Among his many awards are WUSTL’s Robert S. Brookings Award, an honorary degree in humane letters from UMSL, the Martin Luther King Local Philanthropy Award and the NAACP Humanitarian Award twice.

He was included in Worth magazine’s “100 Most Generous Americans” in 1995, and in 1999 he was named “St. Louis Philanthropist of the Year.”

Springboard to Learning motivates, stimulates and inspires children to learn more about themselves and the world.

It provides 150 cultural and diversity programs annually to more then 15,000 schoolchildren 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 charity, Harris award recipients also receive an inscribed work of art.

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