2018 University Service Award

Peter Lee, '64, PhD
University Service Award


Dr. Peter Lee, ’64, is one of Seattle University’s earliest international students from Hong Kong and for more than two decades, one of our most actively engaged international alumni.

Dr. Lee graduated from Seattle University with a degree in chemistry. In 1977, after five years as a research chemist at the Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, he accepted a dual technical and business development position at Coca-Cola Far East based in Hong Kong. Besides dealing with food and health-related government agencies in the region, he also served as the special assistant in China affairs to then Chairman J. Paul Austin. Owing to his persistence, Coca-Cola signed an agreement with the Chinese authorities in December 1978, becoming the first international company to re-enter China. The following year he was named the first president of Coca-Cola China and then senior vice president of Coca-Cola Pacific in 1985. Dr. Lee went on to hold senior management positions with several multinational companies in telecommunications, performance chemicals, pigments and packaging industries until his retirement in 2007.

In 1995, Dr. Lee became one of the first international alumni to make a gift to the university’s chemistry department to create scholarships. In 1996, he helped the university build the first accurate data base of Seattle University alumni in Hong Kong by singlehandedly calling each alum and then leading the Hong Kong alumni chapter for 17 years. Through his effort, President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., became the first Seattle University president to visit Hong Kong and Dr. Lee provided the strategic guidance for four subsequent trips there.

During the first trip, the idea for an Asian Studies Program on campus evolved. As the university needed to raise $100,000, Dr. Lee made the lead contribution and secured the remaining funds from Hong Kong alumni.

In 2015, he established the Peter L. Lee Endowed Lectureship in East Asian Culture and Civilization, which brings to campus prominent experts to explore the impact of East Asian thought and tradition on contemporary global issues. His gifts were inspired by an opportunity early in his career to work with the renowned scholar Dr. Joseph Needham at Cambridge University. It fostered a passion for the Needham scholarly legacy. Dr. Lee was instrumental in founding what is now the Joseph Needham Foundation for Science & Civilisation and has been chairman since 2014.

Dr. Lee has demonstrated extraordinary dedication to his alma mater by connecting the university’s leaders with prominent Asian alumni. Consistently he finds ways to enhance relationships between the alumni and the university and makes significant contributions to advance East Asian studies at Seattle U. When asked why he stays involved, Dr. Lee says, “When you drink water, you must think about its source. When I looked back and saw what I got from Seattle U, I knew I had to give back. A good person should always remember the source of his success.”