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Joseph Fee Jr.

1920 - 2017
Joseph Fee Jr. Obituary
Joseph Milton Fee, Jr.


Joseph M. Fee, Jr., passed away peacefully at home in San Francisco, California on March 13, 2017. He was 96. The son of Joseph M. Fee and Mary Hopwood Fee, he was born in Wilson (Clairton), Pennsylvania. In 1928, he moved with his younger sister, Florence Hopwood Fee, and his parents to Michigan, where his father became the first mayor of Grosse Point City. His father's untimely death in 1938 shaped his family's life indelibly. After graduating that same year from Grosse Pointe High School as a tennis doubles champion, Joe joined his mother and sister in southern California. He attended Pomona College for several semesters. In the summer of 1940, he returned to his boyhood home in Grosse Pointe, living with his mother and sister. He worked as a machine operator for the Northwest Tool Company before taking a graveyard shift job in a tire assembly line with the U.S. Rubber Company. In a 1951 job application, he wrote of achieving a "certain mutual respect with the machines," of being proud of "keeping up with the line," and "sticking it out and holding his own with some fairly tough characters."
Joe enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942. While at the Cleveland Naval Station in 1943, he happened upon a notice of a test for V-12 college training leading to a naval officer's commission. After taking the test, he was given orders to report to New Haven. He attended Yale University in uniform and subsequently Midshipmen's School at Columbia University, marching up and down the stairs multiple times daily to a top floor of John Jay Hall, and graduating in October 1944. He was assigned to the U.S.S. Tangiers, a seaplane tender, as one of five deck officers. He was on deck watch duty during a historic typhoon that sunk two U.S. destroyers and when the U.S.S. Tangiers went into Tokyo Bay, then still dotted with mine fields, for the signing of the Instrument of Surrender of the Empire of Japan in 1945.
Retiring as Lt. after the War, Joe returned to Yale, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in Economics in 1947 with the class of 1945W. At Yale, he befriended and came under the informal tutelage of playwright and artist-in-residence, Thornton Wilder. In a letter following Joe's graduation, Wilder suggested Joe "take some spare time and write another play," adding, "I'll always be glad to read 'em."
While visiting his mother and sister during a Navy leave, Joe met the love of his life, Elizabeth Crawford, after hearing repeatedly about "the prettiest girl in Santa Barbara." Joe and Libby were married in 1948 in her family home in Santa Barbara. A few years later, Joe wrote that being married to Libby lifted a sense of impermanence he had felt since his father's death. Joe sold soap for Procter and Gamble until 1949 when the couple moved to Cambridge and Joe started Harvard Business School on the GI Bill. He graduated with distinction in 1951.
Joe took a job as a security analyst with Dean Witter in San Francisco upon graduating from business school. In 1954, Joe was the tenth employee to join Dodge and Cox, an investment management firm. Joe introduced pension and foundation fund management to the firm, diversifying the client base and vastly increasing the assets under management. Joe's investment acumen facilitated a comfortable retirement for multitudes of clients from a broad spectrum of professions. "It was all because of him," asserts a Dodge and Cox colleague,"he set the standard." Pillar that he was, Joe could also be playful -- he did somersaults in the office hallway when new accounts came in. He became President after the firm incorporated and was named Chairman and CEO in 1990.
Joe's tenacity, mental agility, and capacity to juggle contradictory ideas helped him weather setbacks – and reassure others in the face of them. He had a remarkable capacity to cull the significant in jumbled heaps of facts. He could move deftly between the bigger picture and relevant – or extraneous – details and clearly articulate a nuanced thesis. Though never dogmatic or imperious, he seemed always to be right, sometimes maddeningly so. Joe's understanding and knowledge were accompanied for the entirety of his life by an unfailing memory and a contagious wit. He was a masterful storyteller, both in speech and in prose; his toasts were legendary. He was warm and charismatic. If asked for advice, he responded with succinct nuggets of distilled wisdom. When one's own world or the world at large seemed upside down, he could make it seem rightable.
Joe spent his life working indefatigably for the security, joy, and fulfillment of his loved ones. He was a trusted and esteemed advisor, a cherished friend, and a devoted and adored husband. He was the dearest, most loving father and grandfather any child could hope for. Though Joe gently dismissed the adjective, his grandson once aptly described him as a perfect man.
Joe was a former Board member of Grace Cathedral and the Asian Art Museum and a former Board president of the San Francisco Mental Health Association and the San Francisco Chapter of the American Cancer Society. He was a member of the Bohemian Club, the Pacific Union Club, the California Tennis Club, and the Lagunitas Country Club. Joe was also a sportsman. An avid tennis player until his knees failed him, he was a committed fan of the Giants, 49ers, and Warriors.
Joe was predeceased by his beloved wife of 64 years, Libby, in 2012. He is survived by his daughters, Laura E. Rees (Nigel), Nancy H. Fee (Peter G. Platt, Jr.), his grandchildren, Natalie E. Mulay, Amanda F. Mulay, Isabella O. Rees, and Jordy A. Fee-Platt, and by his nieces and nephews.
Burial services were private. Donations in Joe's memory can be made to the Northern California chapter of the ARCS Foundation or to a playwriting fund being established in his name. For information on the latter, please contact Bret Silver at Barnard College.


Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Apr. 16, 2017
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