Albert R. Lee

Lee, Albert R.

Albert R. Lee was born June 26, 1874 on a farm near Champaign. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. William Lee. He was graduated from Champaign High School in 1893, and besides his year of study at the University of Illinois, he also learned shorthand and studied privately for four years. Mr. Lee married Miss Maud McCurdy, November 23, 1898. They had two sons and one daughter.

Albert R. Lee was a member of the University of Illinois staff from 1895-1947. He served the U of I for 53 years through seven administrations, beginning at age 20 as a messenger boy working for President Andrew S. Draper. At that time, the university had only 800 students and 74 graduates. He advanced through the ranks of Assistant Clerk, Clerk, and as Chief Clerk in the office of the University president, the last position he held until his retirement in 1947. Mr. Lee watched the U of I grow into a school that served 18,000 students. Mr. Lee was known as the only African-American that other African-American students could go to for advice and guidance. He was called the "unofficial Dean of Colored Students." Since they were unable to sleep on campus until 1965 (due to segregation), he matched African American students up with families in north Champaign that were willing to rent out rooms. Sometimes, he even took students in to live with his own family. When he retired, it was noted that he had been the first African American employee hired at the University of Illinois and the employee with the most service.

Mr. Lee was also a prominent member of the African American community. He was president of the Bethel A.M.E. Choir and sang in the choir himself. He was also Sunday School District Superintendent. His fraternal affiliations included past master of Lone Star Lodge No. 18, assistant grand patron, Eureka Grand Chapter O.E. S., past grand high priest of the Royal Arch Masons, and past grand commander of Prince Grand Commandery for the Knights Templar. Mr. Lee was a member of the Twin City branch of the NAACP, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, and a member of the Scottish Rite and Shriner orders. In 2022, artist Patrick Earl Hammie, a professor in the School or Art and Design at U of I, painted a portrait of Mr. Lee, which now hangs in the Student Dining and Residential Programs Building on campus.

Albert R. Lee passed away on August 24, 1948.