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Dr. William H. Lee
Genoa Barrow, Sacramento Observer
Published: 24 September 2019

SACRAMENTO – He was tireless in the fight for access and respect for Black journalists and relentless in championing for Blacks to have a seat at the proverbial table.

Sacramento Observer publisher emeritus Dr. William H. Lee went on to his glory, having passed away on Sunday, September 22. Dr. Lee was 83 years old.

Dr. Lee was born on May 29, 1936, in Austin, Texas.  His parents (Rev. Charles R. Lee, father, and Carrie Lee, mother), with sons William and James R. Lee, moved to California, first to San Francisco and then to Sacramento, in the early 1940s. Dr. Lee attended Sacramento State University (1953-1955) and went on to earn a B.A. degree (Accounting) from UC Berkeley in 1957.  He was awarded an Honorary Ph.D. from Southeastern University in 1970.

After graduating from UC Berkeley, Lee had short, but fruitful, employment stays with both Aerojet and IBM Corporations. His dream to establish his own firm, however, led him to open his own real estate and land development company in 1960. The success he had in real estate allowed him to invest in the much-needed community newspaper publishing business. He along with local radio connoisseur Geno Gladden and businessman John W. Cole, launched the Sacramento Observer on November 22, 1962.

A short time after starting the paper, Gladden passed away. And, in 1965, Lee and his wife, Kathryn, became sole owners of the paper, also starting at the time the Lee Publishing Company. The publishing company grew during the 1970s and 80s, to publishing at one point, six distinct publications in California and Nevada.

From 1970 to 1989, he served on the board of directors and as an officer of the National Newspapers Publisher’s Association (NNPA), the Black Press of America. He was co-founder and a long-time president of the West Coast Black Publisher’s Association (WCBPA). Lee was named “Publisher of the Year” by the WCBPA in 1985.

Lee’s newspaper, the Sacramento Observer, has been named the nation’s No. 1 Black newspaper six times; being awarded the coveted John B. Russwurm trophy, the nation’s top newspaper publishing honor given by the NNPA.

A recognized business leader, Lee served on the board of directors of a number of national and local companies, including Blue Cross of California; Methodist Hospital (Sacramento); the Superior Valley Small Business Development Corporation; the advisory board of Wells Fargo Bank; and, the advisory board of the former Home Savings financial institution. 

Sacramento Magazine named Dr. Lee as one of the “50 Most Powerful Leaders” in the City (2006).  He was a co-founder and former President of the Men’s Civic League; co-founder of the Sacramento Urban League; as well as co-founder of the Sacramento Area Black Caucus.

In January 2015, Kevin Johnson, Sacramento’s first African American mayor, awarded Dr. Lee with the Mort Friedman Legacy Award, which honors an outstanding individual who has made notable civic and community contributions within the Sacramento city and region.

The community is invited to Dr. William H. Lee memorials. Viewing and community gathering will be held Monday, Sept. 30, 1-7 p.m. at Center of Praise Ministries, 2223 Capitol Ave., Sacramento, Calif. Celebration of Life ceremony will be held Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 11:00 a.m. with viewing at 10:00 a.m. at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, 3996 14th Ave., Sacramento, Calif.

Read the full obituary on The Sacramento Observer website.

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