Rededication of the William States Lee III Mural

Date Published: 
September 16, 2014

Marking the 20th year of the naming of The William States Lee College of Engineering and welcoming the mural of the college’s namesake to its new home in Duke Centennial Hall, family and friends of Bill Lee gathered Sept. 11, 2014, to remember the man whose life and career embodied the principles of the college that bears his name.

Attending the rededication of the William States Lee III Mural at UNC Charlotte were Mr. Lee’s children: States Lee, along with his wife Alison and daughter Madison; Helen Lee; and Lisa Lee Morgan, along with her husband Alan.

“Dedication ceremonies honor those who have made significant, lasting contributions to our growing university,” said Bob Johnson, dean of the college of engineering, “and this occasion is no exception. It is truly a pleasure to see family and friends of Bill Lee gathered here today as we dedicate the mural of William States Lee III, the namesake of the college of engineering.”

Representing the Lee family, States Lee said he fondly remembered the initial dedication and unveiling of the mural by Joni Pienkowski in 1994. “Joni is a super-talented artist and obviously came to the realization that there were simply too many expressions or images of Bill Lee to capture in a single portrait,” States said. “He was indeed, among other things, an expressive man.”

The mural, entitled “A Conversation with Bill Lee.”, portrays multiple portraits of Bill Lee. It was originally installed on campus in Smith Hall, which was at the time the home of the college of engineering.

“Joni really did capture Dad in every single portrait,” States said. “There is one image that nailed Dad when he really, really wanted you to get his point. Generally, when I saw him like that, the next, and the last part of the conversation, at least when I was on the receiving end, consisted of two words: ‘Yes Sir.’”

For over 18 years, States said he has kept a file from his father’s office with a label that reads “Speeches Made by Bill Lee”. An interesting thing about the file is that there’s not a single speech about nuclear power safety, utility rates, shareholders meetings or such, but all of the speeches are about education.

“Some of the titles of the speeches are ‘Education: The Competitive Force,’ ‘Education: Our Best Investment,’ and ‘Education and the Future Economy of the South,’” States said. “They are all typed, double spaced, with a few notes in the margins. Education really mattered to him. And to have his name associated with this college of engineering I am sure meant a lot to him. 

“In this same file are some hand-written notes he made as he prepared his remarks for the original dedication ceremony. He wanted to address three areas in his comments. He had written: Grateful, Excited and Hopeful. Here is what he wrote about being Hopeful.

“Finally – Hopeful

              Hopeful that this college of engineering can flourish in exceeding the expectations of this dynamic region in providing educated engineers and push the frontiers of applied research – both essential to undergird the quality of growth that I see coming in what is internationally recognized as the economic capitol of both Carolinas – an opportunity for the college to be interactive with the region in mutual support. For such a future, I’m much more than hopeful – I am absolutely confident!”

In unveiling the mural in its new home, Dean Johnson said, “We are pleased to welcome this artwork to its permanent home in Duke Centennial Hall. On behalf of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and The William States Lee College of Engineering, I am proud to formally dedicate the William States Lee III Mural.”

Information about Bill Lee

Born in Charlotte in 1929, William States Lee III was the grandson of William States Lee Sr., who helped found Duke Power Company and was its first chief engineer. Bill Lee III attended Princeton University, where he studied civil engineering and graduated with Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude honors.

It was during the late 60s and early 70s that Lee helped lead Duke Power's design, engineering and construction of nuclear power plants. Duke was one of the first utilities in the nation to build base-load nuclear generating units. The cost to construct the three nuclear units at Oconee Nuclear Station, two units at McGuire Nuclear Station and two units at Catawba Nuclear Station were some of the lowest in the world, while the efficiency of the units was among the best.

In 1976, Lee became executive vice president of Duke Power. He was named president and chief operating officer in 1978, and chairman and chief executive officer in 1982. His position and title changed to chairman and president in 1989.

Bill Lee III was a national and international leader of the nuclear power industry. He led a national movement to bring together all nuclear operators in a cooperative organization that would share best practices and establish worldwide safety standards. In 1979, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations was formed and Lee served as its chairman from 1979 to 1982. The World Association of Nuclear Operators was founded in 1989, and Lee served as its president until 1991. These organizations and the leadership of Lee proved critical in the aftermath of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

In his community service, Lee went far beyond the issues directly impacted by Duke Power. He was the champion of numerous causes, including the Boy Scouts, performing arts and environmental stewardship. Perhaps his greatest commitment was to education, supporting everything from preschool programs for underprivileged children, to the building of top engineering programs at UNC Charlotte.

Lee was committed to establishing and expanding excellence at UNC Charlotte's College of Engineering. He led efforts to develop strategic plans, create a vision and mission, and establish measures of success. His commitment led to the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees naming the College The William States Lee College of Engineering in 1994.