Robert Lee, founder of Lee Tennis, 85
April 20, 2010
Robert Lee, founder of Lee Tennis Products in Charlottesville, Virginia, and one of the founders of the U.S. Tennis Court and Track Builders Association, which later became the American Sports Builders Association, died on April 5. He was 85 years old.
Lee was a longtime fixture in the tennis industry.
He was born in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1924, and served in World War II as a Navy pilot, searching for submarines of the New England coast. According to his son-in-law, John Welborn, Lee was one of the youngest pilots ever to have served.
He returned to Raleigh and went to NC State on the GI Bill and studied engineering. His first job after college was working as an engineer for the quarry where Har-Tru material was mined.
“He migrated into the tennis business from there and built most of the early Har-Tru courts back in the 50s and early 60s,” noted Welborn.
In 1964, Lee left Har-Tru and started the Robert Lee Company, making the product in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“He enjoyed the tennis boom of the early 70s, grew the accessory side of the business during the next few years and eventually added many innovations in growing Lee Tennis to where it is today,” Welborn continued.
1964 was also an auspicious year for Lee, who together with some industry colleagues, came up with the idea of organizing as a group to encourage others to pursue excellence in tennis court and running track construction. The idea, once presented, was unanimously endorsed, and the organization gained momentum, becoming the U.S. Tennis Court & Track Builders Association.
As time went on, the association developed a more formal structure, a paid management staff and eventually, the publications and documents, as well as the awards program and the certifications that it is known for today in its incarnation as the American Sports Builders Association.
In its presentation at the 2009 Technical Meeting, ASBA recognized the founders as well as charter members, including Bob Lee.
According to Welborn, Lee (who retired from the business in 1997) has left a lasting impression on the tennis industry.
“Bob devised many of the construction techniques and principals still used today to build clay courts,” he states. “Eventually the company he founded ended up with the Har-Tru name which he had helped build up originally. Along the way, he helped many people enjoy playing on clay courts and he helped many others who constructed and cared for the courts make a good living and grow their businesses as well. He leaves behind many good friends in the industry, a great company which he started, lots of Har-tru court knowledge, and a legacy for doing things right.”