Newsworthy—E. Desmond Lee, Missouri History Museum Benefactor and St. Louis Philanthropist, 1917–2010

13, December 2009
E. Desmond LeePhotograph by Joel Marion

E. Desmond “Des” Lee, has died at age 92 of complications from a stroke. Lee was a generous donor to the Missouri History Museum and many St. Louis institutions.

Lee was born in Sikeston, MO, and attended Washington University in St. Louis. While still in school, he and friend Jim Rowan cofounded Lee-Rowan Manufacturing Company, which designed hangers, shelving, and closet accessories. The company grew exponentially after the war. After Lee sold it in 1993, he created the E. Desmond Lee Foundation, which has given more than $70 million to educational and cultural institutions.

History Museum president Robert R. Archibald said, “Des was a generous benefactor to the Missouri History Museum. We are all familiar with the auditorium that bears his name, the steam locomotives from his collection that grace the east courtyard, his service as a board member, and the many programs he and his wife funded and supported.” Lee and his wife, Mary Ann, received the Museum’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award in 2006. The award recognizes those who have made outstanding contributions to the St. Louis community, exhibited a continuing commitment to the future of the region, and developed a significant understanding of the value of our heritage and the importance of sustaining the values we as a community have created. Said Archibald, “Every cultural and educational institution in the area has profited from the personal mission of Des Lee to make this a better place than he found it. He will be very much missed but remembered with great affection and appreciation.”