Russel Hewlett Lee: Larger than life

Publication Date: Wednesday May 3, 2000

Russel Hewlett Lee: Larger than life

by Bill Miller

Encapsulating physician R. Hewlett Lee in a paragraph or two is a bit like trying to reduce Handel's "Messiah" to a few bars: You might be able to do it, but you'd have to leave out so much it might not be worth the effort.

Lee is larger than life in many respects: He not only comes from a prominent family, but probably the preeminent medical family on the Peninsula. He is so intelligent that he skipped two grades in middle school, entered Stanford at age 16, finished in record time, then graduated from Stanford Medical School at age 21.

Similarly, Lee not only serves his community but leads by the highest, most rigorous example through his prominent roles in several medical societies, including the Santa Clara County Medical Association, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and the board of Stanford University Hospital.

He has served as president of the Stanford Medical School Alumni Association and is still on call as a clinical professor of surgery at Stanford hospital.

"Hewey," as he is known to his large circle of personal friends and professional associates, has an extensive list of accomplishments, honors and service contributions to many branches of his profession and his community. But it's impossible to talk to Lee without the conversation immediately turning to "family."

Now in its fourth generation locally, the Lees have left an indelible mark on the Palo Alto area. Lee is one of five children of Dr. Russel V. and Dorothy Lee, each of whom followed their father into the practice of medicine and achieved high regard in their own careers.

"Our family always sat down to dinner together," said Hewlett Lee, reminiscing about his youth.

Any longtime resident familiar with Hewlett's parents can immediately picture such frequent family encounters to be intellectually challenging, providing a real clue as to why the Lee clan has made such major contributions in so many areas.

Lee's education spanned Peninsula School for his elementary school years, Chadwick School--named for his aunt, who founded the school--for one year, Palo Alto High School, Stanford University and Stanford School of Medicine.

One of many words that help describe Lee is "capacity." In the process of transferring to Chadwick School, he skipped from sixth to ninth grade and breezed through high school before entering Stanford. There he signed up for a double load, taking 30 units at a time and soon completing his undergraduate years with honors, including Phi Beta Kappa.

Lee married Elizabeth Joan Plumb in 1947 at the age of 21, followed almost immediately by his internship at Western Reserve University. He then served his residency at Stanford hospital. During the latter phase of his advanced surgical training, he served a fellowship year at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London.

From 1947 to 1956, the Lees accentuated this seemingly hectic pace with the birth of four children: Virginia Lee Adi, a registered nurse who lives in Portola Valley and is the mother of two; Phyllis Chadwick Lee, a professor at Cambridge and also the mother of two; Eric H. Lee, the father of two and an entrepreneur in San Diego; and Stanley H. Lee, a contractor in Marysville.

Space limitations preclude listing all of Lee's varied activities, duties and accomplishments since launching his practice at the Palo Alto clinic in 1956. In short order he became a partner in '58, was elected vice executive director in '64 and executive director in '80, serving in the latter role until 1990. Aside from his private surgical practice, he has held faculty appointments at Stanford School of Medicine continuously for decades.

Lee has held numerous state appointments and leadership roles in a half-dozen professional societies and many medical association groups, including the presidency of the Santa Clara County Medical Association.

As a son of Russel V. Lee, who founded the Palo Alto Medical Clinic, Hewlett has been a worthy successor to his father, an early leader in fostering the group practice format as well as the delivery of medicine to groups.

Hewlett Lee has played an active role in group practice activities nationally. He also co-founded and was a trustee of medical service groups beginning in the mid-1970s. His seemingly unlimited capacity for sharing his wisdom and leadership qualities has also extended to such nonmedical assignments as a director of Mid-Peninsula Bank and a director of the Glean Group, planning facilities for the elderly.

His community services credits range from the board of Stanford hospital to trustee of the medical foundation (1982 to the present) to president of the Stanford Medical Alumni Association.

Asked if he would recommend Medicine as a worthy career to any of his six grandchildren, Lee answers in a flash: "Absolutely! It is a magnificent calling!" It's impossible to confine a description of Lee to a sentence, or a paragraph. His is truly a "lifetime of achievement."

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