In memory of a visionary, philanthropist and responsible leader

Posted 2020-02-20

The University of British Columbia’s  Sauder School of Business is deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Robert H. Lee, a generous philanthropist and dear friend to UBC and the Sauder community.  

Bob was born and raised in Vancouver’s Chinatown. In his early teenage years, he became interested in the real estate business, fueling a passion for entrepreneurship that carried throughout his life. He later enrolled in UBC’s Faculty of Commerce and graduated in 1956, marking the beginning of a long and influential relationship with the university.

In 1966, Bob co-founded Wall Financial Corp. and in 1979 he founded  Prospero International Realty Inc.. Bob grew Prospero to hold a diverse real estate portfolio that today includes retail, office and industrial properties throughout British Columbia.

Bob remained highly committed to UBC throughout his life, and eventually earned the nickname “Mr. UBC” in recognition of his many influential contributions. He met his wife Lily (BSN’56) while they were undergraduates, and their four children (Carol, BCom’81; Derek, BCom’82; Leslie, BCom’84; and Graham, BCom’87) and daughters and son-in-law (Carlota, BCom’82; John Murphy, BA’84 & Angela BA’88) all graduated from UBC as well.

He served on the the UBC Board of Governors from 1984 until 1990 . In 1988, he helped establish the UBC Properties Trust, of which he was chairman until 2011 and had served as chairman emeritus untillast year. The trust was the first in Canada to build market housing on university land to support its endowment for teaching, research and community engagement. To date, over $1.7 billion in value has been generated for the UBC endowment.

Bob also served as Chancellor of UBC from 1993-1996 and helped to build UBC’s reputation throughout Canada and beyond. He received an Honourary Doctorate of Laws degree from UBC in 1996 and was appointed honorary campaign chair of the $1.6 billion start an evolution campaign.

His generosity is deeply felt at UBC. He donated extensively over the years, including a $5 million contribution to UBC Sauder, where the Robert H. Lee Graduate School was named in his honour in 2006.

“Bob Lee’s legacy is immeasurable. His incredible commitment to this school was inspiring and motivating. The impact he made here will help build prosperity and purpose for future generations. He will be dearly missed and never forgotten,” says Dean of UBC Sauder School of Business, Robert Helsley.

Bob’s philanthropic efforts extended well beyond UBC. He championed many causes in Vancouver’s Chinatown and he also made significant contributions to the YMCA in Downtown Vancouver, of which he had been a member for 45 years. The Robert Lee YMCA was named in his honour.

Bob set a very high bar for civic engagement by dedicating his time, talents and resources to building a brighter future for British Columbians and raising the profile of higher education in this province.