Remembering Uncle Bernie Lee
Bernard Shing-Shu "Bernie" Lee, or Uncle Bernie as he was called at Camp, passed away peacefully in November 2010 in Arizona, after a year-long, courageous battle with lung cancer. The Lees - Uncle Bernie, Auntie Pauline, Karen, Lesley, and Tania – were a fixture at Camp for many years, attending the second session from 1971 to 1983. Uncle Bernie and Auntie Pauline each served as Camp Director in 1972 and 1977, respectively. Their last year of attendance (without their kids) was at the 30th Anniversary Camp in 1988. Uncle Bernie was a model to many of the Young Adults and teens as to what it meant to be an engineer as well as a Chinese- American who had adapted well to American culture while still retaining his cultural heritage.
Uncle Bernie was born in Nanjing, China in 1934, and he came with his family to America in 1949. The family owned a cattle farm in Virginia for the first few years, and he helped with farm chores on top of learning English and going to school. The first engineer in his family, Uncle Bernie received his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1956 from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, and continued on to receive his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Poly in 1960. He first met Auntie Pauline while he was in Chicago doing his thesis research at Argonne National Laboratory.
Upon graduation, Uncle Bernie bought his first car (a 1957 Chevy Bel-Air convertible) and embarked on his professional career at Arthur D. Little, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts working on a variety of experimental and pilot plant projects using fluidized bed reactor technology. His main reason for choosing the Boston area was to pursue Auntie Pauline who was getting her doctorate in biochemistry at Harvard. Their wedding in 1963 began their loving partnership of 47 years.
In 1965, the Lees moved to Chicago where Uncle Bernie joined the Institute of Gas Technology, a not-for-profit contract research and education organization. Uncle Bernie began as a Supervisor responsible for a development project to convert coal to substitute natural gas. He devoted most of his time at the pilot plant and became an authority in the gasification field. As his leadership ability was recognized, he took on increasing responsibilities, becoming President of IGT in 1978, a position he held for 21 years until his retirement in 1999.
Early in his professional career, Uncle Bernie understood that energy was a driving force for the economy. Because the world’s oil supply would eventually be exhausted, he advocated research to develop alternative energy sources. Even after his retirement, he made a personal investment into renewable energy by installing solar panels on his home and convincing many neighbors to do the same. Since 2007, Uncle Bernie also co-authored several papers pointing out the need for Massive Energy Storage (MES, a term he coined) options to allow solar and wind power to provide a constant supply of electricity.
At IGT, Uncle Bernie organized new strategies to raise research funds. He applied these skills to help fundraising for Chinese-Americans who were running for public office in the 1990s. Uncle Bernie also successfully led a campaign to raise $5 million for a new community building for the Chinese American Service League in Chicago’s Chinatown, which was dedicated in 2003. Uncle Bernie served as director on several boards, and especially enjoyed travelling to Asia as Advisor to Petronas in Malaysia, and Shanghai Gas Design Institute in China. Always grateful for the education he received, he and Auntie Pauline also endowed an undergraduate scholarship fund at his alma mater (now renamed Polytechnic Institute of New York).
The Lees moved to Arizona in 2002, where Uncle Bernie enjoyed wearing t-shirts, comfortable shoes and driving his retirement-gift Corvette. Uncle Bernie’s favorite pastimes included his daily crossword puzzles and Sudokus, playing tennis, singing in the church choir, hiking and enjoying fine meals at French restaurants on special occasions. The Lee daughters have settled around the globe – Karen in China, Lesley in Illinois, and Tania in Canada, each with three children apiece totaling eight grandsons and one granddaughter.
When contacted in 2002 about attending the reunion session at Oakwood, Uncle Bernie wrote the following about his memories of past Camps:
FAMILY CAMP MEMORIES…as best recalled between accelerating frequencies of “senior moments” by Bernie Lee 4-29-02
Overall, the CSAS Family Camp experience was unique and left indelible imprints on our whole family.
- The involvement of the whole family in camp activities gave everyone a whole week to really get to know people. As testament to the lasting and true friendships so established, we still see many old campers, or write regularly to those who moved away.
- We brought Tania to our first camp session while she was still in diapers! That was a challenge, not her, but the handling of her diapers. Now she is a professional musician, and she still gets a chuckle reliving those camp days.
- Not only did Tania grow up in the camp, but Karen and Lesley too. Karen, now a mother of 3 boys, has been in China for 7 years with her husband, David. Lesley, mother of 2 boys, has been in Kyrgystan for a year with her husband, Greg. With Tania living in Toronto with her husband, Paul, we don’t have any of our immediate family in the U.S.! So, all the training our girls received at Camp regarding independent living, foraging for food, assimilating different cultures, and adapting to new environments, has come in handy! Thank you, Family Camp!
- I thought the one day each camper had to do kitchen duty was a great idea! Getting up early to scramble hundreds of eggs was the crowning culinary experience for me. Gave me tremendous satisfaction and a sense of power to make so much food which people actually ate!
- Gathering in the Lodge, whenever there was free time, to play bridge with John Chao and anyone else John can get was fun. I had not played so much bridge since my graduate student days at the International House! Especially after the evening activities were done, prior to midnight snacks and afterwards until light-out, playing bridge with a bowl of porridge or other goodies could not be beat!
- Playing tennis on the great Center Court with uneven concrete slabs, and with grass and other flora growing out of the cracks was unique. I always thought I could beat Joe Lee, but for the lousy surface! It’s nice to have an excuse that could not be denied!
- Friday night festival always brought out an amazing array of talent. We all took the project so earnestly. Each year, there were always some innovative skits which someone spontaneously thought of. And the best part was everyone, when called upon, always participated. I did not know anyone who absolutely declined to take part, another testament to the friendship the camp helped develop. We all know how sensitive Chinese are about “losing face” in front of their peers. But in the camp atmosphere, we enjoyed thoroughly such group activities, even if we looked foolish most of the time as amateur performers.
- My stage highlight was the duet which Mary Lee (wife of Henry) and I sang one year. I think it was “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, but I could not be totally sure---one of those “senior moments” just hit me! Mary was a lovely vision for me to croon to, and we walked off the stage arm-in-arm! The audience went wild, but I had enough sense to keep my day job and not embark on a Broadway career!
- The discipline and self-regulation of the campers. From the camp director to the various persons responsible for specific activity areas, it was a challenging but rewarding experience-- -especially in retrospect---to meld over 100 campers of diverse background, many of whom first-timers, into a cohesive group where both fun and serious things got accomplished. The tradition of family unit and self control was evident throughout. I can barely recall a couple of occasions where we had to have a campers meeting to resolve a situation. In most sessions, the most serious discipline issue was the nightly walk by the camp director in the cabin areas to remind the kids that sleep was a key element to their growth!