In Memoriam: Richard V. Lee, MD, Dedicated Global Physician

richard lee, md.

Richard V. Lee, MD

Published May 13, 2013

Richard V. Lee, MD, professor of medicine and a physician in private practice, died suddenly on May 7 at his home in Orchard Park, N.Y. He was 75.

“I will remember him as someone who used his profession fully and with passion to bring medical care to patients worldwide.”
Michael E. Cain, MD
Vice president for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

A UB faculty member since 1976, Lee held faculty positions in pediatrics, obstetrics-gynecology, social and preventive medicine and anthropology in addition to his primary appointment in medicine.

He also led the Department of Medicine at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo from 1979 to 1996.

UB will honor him with a memorial service June 24 at 3 p.m. at a venue to be determined.

Expert in Obstetric Medicine

Lee was a renowned leader in obstetric medicine, a field specializing in the treatment of disease, infection and complications during pregnancy.

He was a founding member of the International Society of Obstetric Medicine, and received its C.G. Barnes Award for outstanding contributions to the field in 2007.

The North American Society of Obstetric Medicine has established a lecture in Lee’s name, to be delivered at its annual meeting.

Fostered Global Perspectives

Lee was passionate about international health, tropical medicine and the complexities of managing medical complications of pregnancy and the health status of geographically isolated human populations.  These interests took him and graduate students on annual medical expeditions to provide care to people in some of the most remote areas on the planet.

“He was first and foremost a caring and dedicated physician, here in Western New York and throughout the world,” recalls Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“I will remember him as someone who used his profession fully and with passion to bring medical care to patients worldwide and to help ensure that our medical students were exposed to a global perspective.”

Through Lee’s efforts leading the international medicine program for the medical school, “generations of students learned cultural sensitivity and traveled around the world,” says Anne B. Curtis, MD, Charles and Mary Bauer Professor and chair of medicine.

“He will be sorely missed by all of us.”

Studied and Served People in Remote Areas, Refugees

Lee maintained an active research program, studying the health of people in geographically isolated areas, including the Rendille tribe of Northern Kenya; the Kayapo, Parakana and Apalai tribes of Brazil, and the Ladakh people of Northwestern Himalaya.

His work abroad included medical treks with students and other physicians to remote villages in India in the 1980s and ’90s, and visits to the Amazon jungle and the Andes.

In addition, he provided health services in Thailand to refugees from Laos and Cambodia.

His work with Tibetan refugees in India led to an acquaintance with the Dalai Lama. He later served on the UB committee that brought the spiritual leader to Buffalo in 2006. Lee and his wife also established a fund to support Tibetan students and Tibetan studies at UB.

In addition, Lee consulted for the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center for Health in Housing, based in Buffalo.

Doctoring As “Quintessential Anthropology”

Lee summed up his views about the practice of medicine during an interview published in the Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings in 2000.

“I think doctoring is quintessential anthropology. We study humankind,” he said.

“I still like to think of myself as a diagnostician—an old-fashioned notion that has gone out of style, I think, in internal medicine. I find that to be fun.”

A Scholar and a Gentleman

Stephen Dunnett, UB vice provost for international education, describes Lee as “a wonderfully gifted physician and faculty member” and “a scholar and a gentleman in the very best sense.”

“Everyone—friend and stranger—benefited from Dick’s open, personable and helpful manner,” says Dunnett. “His gift for being with others was complemented by his superb professional skills as a clinician and his far-ranging intellectual and artistic interests which made him a highly-regarded teacher and author.”

Promoted China-U.S. Exchanges

Although born in Islip, N.Y. and educated in the United States and Scotland, “Dr. Lee was very proud of his Chinese heritage,” notes Curtis.

He developed a lifelong interest in promoting educational exchanges between the United States and China.

As a trustee of the Yale-China Association, he maintained academic interchanges with medical schools in Hong Kong, Changsha (Hunan Province) and Beijing.

Lee also was an important member of the UB delegation that visited China to renew the university’s affiliation agreement with Capital University in Beijing.

Yale Alumnus and Faculty Member

Lee earned bachelor’s and medical degrees at Yale University, where he was awarded the Ferris Prize in anatomy and the Winternitz Pathology Prize.

He followed in the footsteps of his paternal grandfather, Li Yan Phou, who studied at Yale, and was one of the first Chinese students to be educated in the United States.

Lee completed his residency and postdoctoral training at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Before coming to UB, he was a professor of medicine at Yale and worked for the Indian Health Service at the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana.

Served Profession, Community and the Arts

Through various leadership positions, Lee left his mark on the Western New York community and beyond.

He offered his professional expertise through community roles such as:

  • trustee of the Buffalo Academy of Medicine (president from 1985 to 1996)
  • medical director of Ecology and Environment, Inc. in Lancaster
  • chief of medical service at the Buffalo Veterans Administration Medical Center
  • consultant to the Buffalo Zoo and Bronx Zoo

His affiliations included:

  • fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society of Medicine in London; the American College of Physicians; and the Explorers Club in New York
  • member of the American Medical Association, the New York Academy of Sciences and the Great Lakes Interurban Club
  • trustee and secretary of the Yale-China Association

Other community involvement included these roles:

  • trustee of Nichols School in Buffalo
  • board member of the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Lee is survived by his wife of 52 years, the former Susan Bradley; two sons, Benjamin and Matthew; two grandchildren and other family members.