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Dr. Burton J. Lee III

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Dr.  Burton J. Lee III Obituary
Dr. Burton J. Lee III

Vero Beach, FL

Dr. Burton J. Lee III, beloved White House Physician and doctor for tens of thousands of patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, passed peacefully in his adopted town of Vero Beach, FL. He is survived by his wife of fifty years, Ann Lee, who encouraged and supported his immense work. Dr. Lee, always a caring and outspoken voice for those in crisis, spent twenty-nine years at Memorial, mostly as Senior Attending Physician on the Lymphoma Service before and during his appointment to the Reagan HIV-AIDS Commission, and then moved on to his position as Physician to the President in the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush.

Dr. Lee was born in New York in 1930 to Burton James Lee Jr. and Rosamond Auchincloss Lee. Burt, as he is known still today, revered and patterned his life on that of his grandfather, Charles Auchincloss, truly an English "One-Nation Conservative," who saw his position as one of duty, compassion, and responsibility to all. Dr. Lee, a genuinely funny and directly honest individual, was ever the caring, outspoken, and honest voice for every patient in his standard case-load of up to 1500 patients, waiving more times than anyone could count all of his fees for those who couldn't pay. He was never afraid to be the maverick.

Patient-centered to the last, Dr. Lee prided himself-and was extolled by those whom he treated-as "old school": "clinicians first, scientists second." In his later life, he had much to say, often in print, in venues such as the The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, about the attenuation of physician-focus on the actual person. His protégé-fellow and friend to the end, Dr. Paul Hetzel, said that "Burt had an uncanny way of seeing in the first twenty seconds just how a patient was doing; he could watch and listen that well. That's what I learned from him: the doctor-patient relationship, and he was just classy."

While at Memorial, authoring or co-authoring 141 research publications, Dr. Lee began traveling to Washington to serve on President's Reagan's HIV-AIDS Commission, the first of its kind. Shortly after, in 1989, he was appointed chief of the medical unit in the White House as Personal Physician to the President, becoming a fast friend and loyal doctor to President Bush.

In 1992, Dr. Lee moved on to hospital administration in Greenville, SC, putting into place the city's first comprehensive cancer treatment program. He moved in the later '90s to a brief stint in the bio-tech world in Boston, served on the Board of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, moved to Martha's Vineyard and then retired to Vero Beach, where he immediately involved himself, again, in service. He served for fourteen years, many as Chairman, on the Board of Directors for the Indian River County Hospital District. Dr. Lee also contributed countless hours working on the Board of the Whole Family Health Center, upgrading local care and extending that care to those in financial need. Not stopping there, he helped with the inception of Alcohope, a non-profit alcohol recovery center serving Vero Beach County and surrounding communities.

Dr. Lee grew up in New York City, attended the Buckley School and then Andover Phillips Academy. He went on to graduate from Yale University in 1952 before receiving his M.D. at Columbia University in 1956. After his internship at Bellevue Hospital in New York, he went overseas as an Army physician to Stuttgart, Germany and shortly after that to post-civil-war Algeria, helping administrate and care for patients in a 1,000-bed hospital, made up of refugees, war casualties, and torture victims. Dr. Lee, throughout his career, would be a vocal and respected critic of human rights abuses-especially torture-including advising for Physicians for Human Rights and traveling to the Palestinian cities. In an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal in 1998, his former patient Lucette Lagnado wrote of Dr. Lee as both a humanitarian and as a physician, saying that for all of his patients, "[he] became the ultimate friend...grand and superhuman."

Dr. Lee is also survived by his three children, Chip Lee, Jackie Antoine, and Roz Naylor, and five grandchildren, as well as by his three step-daughters, Debbie Gillette, Wendy Hall, and Leigh Judson, and their children. He is also survived by two sisters, Rosamond DuPont and Mary Jo Balkind. A memorial service will be held at a later date. Any contributions should be made in Dr. Lee's name to the Whole Family Health Center in Vero Beach.
Published in the TC Palm on Nov. 29, 2016
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