Why Bob and Lily Lee give back

Bob and Lily Lee | BCBusiness
Bob and Lily Lee

A conversation with Robert (Bob) Lee, chairman of Prospero International Realty Inc., and Lily Lee, retired community health nurse

The Lee family tradition of philanthropy began more than six decades ago with Bob’s father, who gave to causes in Vancouver’s Chinatown and sent money back to his ancestral village in China. Bob says that these efforts helped inform the couple’s own philanthropy.

“I was never close to my dad until I was in my teens, and then I found out what he did and I was really happy because he was helping the community and future generations,” says Bob, who graduated from UBC in 1956 and founded the real estate development company UBC Properties Trust in 1988 (which has raised $850 million to date for the UBC Endowment). “When I had the opportunity to go to university myself and make money in the business world, that was a great privilege. This is just a way of saying thank you.”

Gave $2 million to the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation in 2011 (led to the Robert and Lily Lee Family Community Health Centre); $5 million to UBC in 2005 (Robert H. Lee Graduate School at Sauder School of Business and The Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre).

Besides, UBC’s chancellor emeritus adds, donating makes the Lees feel better. Allowing for the fact that his family is financially well off, Bob suggests, “We get more pleasure giving than accepting because people are really appreciative and you can’t do that when you’re gone.”

The Lees’ philanthropy has focused on their shared passions: education and health. “I feel that I have been very fortunate in my life,” says Lily, an Alert Bay, B.C., native who graduated with a nursing degree from UBC. “I worked as a public health nurse in the Downtown Eastside and have always been interested in public health. I am excited that Bob and I can contribute in a small way to improve the health of the community.”

“It’s really important for our generation and future generations, so we need the best health system in the world,” adds Bob. “We come into this world with nothing and then you make a lot of money; why not improve life for the future generation? Wealthy people don’t need all the money, so give it while you’re alive and people appreciate it more. When you’re gone, nobody knows you.”

This is the fourth in a series profiling eight local powerhouse philanthropic duos. Stay tuned.