Ben Lee was remembered Saturday as an influential yet unassuming community builder, who through his work as a teacher, long-time city councillor, volunteer and local leader helped make Kelowna, the city he loved, a better place.
Lee, who died last week at the age of 86, came to Kelowna in the 1950s as the first male Chinese teacher in the B.C, Interior and settled in Rutland, where he taught before moving on to the old Dr. Knox Secondary School.
On Saturday afternoon, under sunny skies in Ben Lee Park—the popular Rutland park that bears his name—hundreds turned out to remember Lee at a public celebration of his life.
It followed a private funeral service for Lee earlier in the day.
During the ceremony, they heard a string of local politicians speak about how the genial Lee, instrumental in the creation of many local parks, who helped start the Kelowna Multicultural Society and the annual Folkfest event held each Canada Day, who served on both city council and the regional district board and who worked so hard to make both his beloved Rutland and the entire city of Kelowna better, touched their lives.
“He was one of our greatest citizens and community leaders,” said Mayor Colin Basran.
“Ben has a special gift of being able to do so much, so quietly and so well.”
West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater, who said he knew Lee for 50 years and was a former student of his at Dr. Knox, called Lee’s gentle way of getting things done “quiet diplomacy.”
Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick said when he decided to first run for public office here—as a city councillor—Lee’s door was the first one he knocked on seeking advice.
Lee served on council from 1973—when Rutland was forced to amalgamate with Kelowna—to 1996.
Lee, who was affectionately known as “the Mayor of Rutland,” is survived by his wife of his wife Joyce and their two sons.