Former anatomic pathology director Lee had impact as teacher, researcher

Robert E. Lee, professor emeritus and former director of anatomic pathology in the School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology, died Oct. 29, 2020, at 90.

Pathology Chair George K. Michalopoulos recalls arriving in 1991 and appreciating the advice that Lee, a professor since 1962, had to offer: “He was the best person I always turned toward” for recommendations about managing the department, Michalopoulos said.

He also saw how many of Lee’s former students and residents were now nationally and internationally known. “That was a testament to his power as a teacher,” Michalopoulos said. “He always impressed me.”

Lee’s research looked into the use of biomarkers in diagnosing certain types of tumors, and he was one of the organizers and teachers of the pathology course for first- and second-year medical students. Michalopoulos praised Lee’s work as a mentor, adding that Lee was “highly, highly respected and loved by everybody in the faculty.”

Born Oct. 11, 1930 in Pittsburgh, Lee attended Central Catholic High School and earned his B.S. (1952) and M.D. (1956) from Pitt. He interned at St. Francis General Hospital, then became a resident in pathology at Presbyterian & Women’s Hospital here, and then a research fellow in 1961 in Pitt’s pathology department, where he joined the faculty the next year.

He rose to be chief of pathology at what was then Presbyterian University Hospital, as well as vice chairman for clinical affairs and director of laboratories. He was author or co-author of more than 60 research papers focused largely on Gaucher's Disease and was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society. Lee received the Philip S. Hench Award as distinguished alumnus of his school and retired in 2001.

Lee was also a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve (1957-1968) and was married to Kathleen McClain for 54 years; they had six children. He served on many boards, including Achieva, St. Anthony School for Exceptional Children and Allegheny County Medical Society.

After Lee’s retirement, Michalopoulos recalls, Lee returned frequently to the department to talk with residents. The pair saw each other just a few months ago at the school, and Michalopoulos remembers “the kind face, the nice smile, the person who lived in the academic environment. It was still the definition of his life and character.”

Lee is survived by his wife and children Robert Jr., Kevin (Karen), Margie O'Leary (John), Thomas (Patti) and Brian, as well as grandchildren Kyle (Shannon), Meredith, Claire, Matthew, Daniel and Thomas Lee, Caitlin Echelberger (Eric), and David O'Leary, and great-grandchild Brigid Lee. He was predeceased by his daughter Maria in 2018, his first wife Ruth Anne Carazola in 1964, his sisters Peggy and Mary Frances Schreibeis and his brother William.

Memorial gifts are suggested to the Scholarship Fund at Central Catholic High School, 4720 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213 or the Down Syndrome Center at Children's Hospital, 4401 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15224.

— Marty Levine