Kin Ping Lee

December 7, 1926June 14, 2019

Kin Ping Lee Fashion Entrepreneur Kin Ping Lee came to the U.S. from Shanghai in 1948, two days after her wedding, and died in Boston on June 14, 2019, after a vibrant life in which she was a witness to history and a fashion entrepreneur, having started a series of stylish boutiques bearing her name. She passed away peacefully in her beloved Beacon Hill home, surrounded by her family. She was 92 years old. Mrs. Lee was born in Suzhou, the heart of the silk industry in China. She was the daughter of a textile merchant, whose success led the family to relocate to a stately mansion in the French Concession of Shanghai. Mrs. Lee came of age in the thick of WWII, and one of her earlier memories was huddling under the family dining table while Japanese bombers attacked Shanghai in 1937 – a sound that would come back to her in 2013 when she stood a block from the Boston Marathon bombing on Boylston St. She had a privileged childhood in a poor country, and remembered seeing the bodies of people who had frozen to death after every cold night as she was driven to school. Seeing that kind of inequity instilled in her a lifelong passion for politics in China and the U.S. She canvassed door-to-door for Barack Obama while in her 80s, and kept his portrait and a framed newspaper front page from his 2008 election on her dining room wall. While she was a teenager in Shanghai, her father arranged a marriage between her and the son of a wealthy shipping tycoon. But when she met Thomas H. Lee – an engineering student whom she thought was smart and exciting – she broke off her engagement. She married Lee, and they came to the U.S. for a planned two year period of education and training. He went on to develop the vacuum circuit breaker while working at General Electric, earned the Philip Sporn Professorship of Energy Processing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and became a pioneer in the development of modern management techniques. Because of turmoil after the 1949 revolution in China, the couple decided to remain in the United States. They raised their three sons in the U.S. – William (an intellectual property lawyer at WilmerHale and the Senior Fellow of the Harvard Corporation), Thomas Jr. (a Senior Physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Chief Medical Officer at Press Ganey), and Richard (Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University and a Senior Physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital). William, who was the first Asian American to be managing partner of a major law firm, says that his mother told the three brothers to never walk away when someone taunted them with an ethnic slur. "She was a force," he said. In the 1960s, Mrs. Lee went to Philadelphia College of Art before accepting a job as a fashion illustrator, drawing women's clothing ads for newspapers and magazines. Ultimately, her talents led her to start her own stores. She had an eye for promising young designers, and forged relationships before they were famous. Her stores were among the first to carry the work of designers such as Betsy Johnson, Norma Kamali, and Perry Ellis. She opened the first of her stores, Kin Ping's Boutique, in Media, PA, and then others in Westport, CT, in Edgartown, MA, and in Boston at Faneuil Hall and Charles St. Her Edgartown store was the go-to place for women to buy white dresses for Carly Simon's legendary full moon party. Her business was a major success. After her husband's death in 2001, she closed her business, and devoted her time and energy to her family. She is survived by her three sons, her three daughters-in-law, Leslie Lee, Dr. Soheyla Gharib, and Dr. Susan Powers-Lee; her eight grandchildren, Christopher Lee, Catherine Lee, Margaret Lee, Dr. Jessica Lee, Dr. Kathleen Lee-Sarwar, Dr. Simin Lee, Sabrina Lee, and Ariana Lee; and five great-grandchildren, Belen, Thomas, and Morgan Lee, and Alexandra and Julia Smith. She loved living near the Boston Common, walking to Chinatown, watching the news, and visiting the home she and her husband built in West Tisbury, MA. Memorial services will be private. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be considered to support the Harvard Stem Cell Institute


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