Board Member Spotlight — Dr. Frank Lee By Jason Spencer This article appeared originally in the Fall 2020 issue of Frontiers Magazine.
Dr. Frank Lee has been coming to Spartanburg Methodist College since he was 6 years old, but he did not end up attending the school when his college days arrived.
Lee’s father, a Methodist minister for 40 years, was an ardent supporter of SMC because of the institution’s ability to raise the self-esteem and education level for so many students who may not have otherwise been able to get a higher education. He knew every president on a first-name basis.
The youngest of seven children, Lee first started coming to campus when he was in the first grade, when his oldest sister began attending SMC. His other brothers and sisters followed suit. But Lee, who graduated high school in Newberry, decided to go a different route. He ended up at Clemson University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, before being recruited to pharmacy school and ultimately medical school in Charleston.
“It’s been said that if you want to build a better America, then you build better Americans. And to do that, you educate them,” he said. “That is what Spartanburg Methodist College is doing. Its size enables it to have more of a one-on-one relationship between professors and students. There’s a lot more mentoring. If people are having trouble, someone is there. When I was at a much larger school, it was harder to find that one-on-one support.”
Lee, a member of the College’s Board of Trustees and the Board’s lone physician, has seen his relationship with SMC continue to grow over the years.
When his father died a little over two decades ago, the family established a scholarship in his name. When his mother passed, her name was added to it – the Michael B. and Nita Lee Scholarship Fund.
In 2009, then-President Colleen Perry Keith called Lee about fundraising for the soon-to-be-constructed Ellis Hall. At the time, Lee didn’t think he would be good at raising money, but he decided to help out.
A couple of years later, Keith called again – this time about a vacancy on the Board of Trustees. She asked him to fill it. Even though he was the only one of his siblings not to attend SMC, Lee said he would be honored to sit on the Board in memory of his parents. He eventually became chair of the Advancement Committee, which, among other things, helps move the College forward financially.
“It’s challenging,” Lee said. “But if you have the right goals and the right message, it’s not about the person who’s asking, it’s about the person who is giving. What do you want to do with your resources to give back? It’s not about me, it’s about their personal goals. Once a person identifies their passion and realizes that they can give back, they are likely to develop a pattern of giving that creates a satisfying feeling. I have also enjoyed introducing the College to funding institutions and foundations. This helps to further the College’s mission and visibility.”
Over time, Lee said the Board has become much more energized and engaged.
The Board’s selection of Scott Cochran as president in 2015 has led to “remarkable” results, he said, praising the cabinet Cochran assembled, which included new executive positions for professional development and for marketing. Members of the President’s Cabinet all have remarkable skill sets that are serving the College well, he said.
The development of the Camak Core, which integrates academic learning with business acumen, means students who leave after two years have immediate, marketable skills that they can show potential employers, he said. And the ongoing transformation of SMC into a four-year school has been “such a joy” to witness and promote, Lee said, adding that it has “revolutionized the way we look at the institution.”
“President Cochran has the kind of insightful brain with which I want all of our students to graduate," Lee said. “Our faculty at SMC is really, really superb. They teach because they want to teach. They love teaching and lifting people up.
“If you get in the habit of lifting people up, the chances they will become successful in business, in education, in health, and in life is much, much better.”
Lee said he enjoys telling the story of SMC – and that people tend to be receptive to it. When they hear the story about the school and the difference it has made in the lives of so many people – and its potential to do so much more – it’s hard not to get excited, he said.
“Frank has been an amazing supporter of SMC for quite some time, and he has an incredible passion for our mission. He works tirelessly on our behalf because he knows that we do important work,” Cochran said. “His passion for our students translates into energy. He lights up the room when he talks about SMC. He’s our biggest cheerleader and one of the hardest-working Trustees we have. I can always count on him to make introductions and tell our story far and wide. He challenges others and leads by example. I’m proud that he is an SMC Trustee, and I’m proud to call him my friend.”
Lee, 71, has been working with students since 1974.
He earned his Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Clinical Pharmacy degrees before completing a pediatric residency at the Medical University of South Carolina.
He practiced pediatric medicine for 37 years. In 1990, he was the sole founder of Children’s Medical Associates, which in 2007 became Coastal Pediatric Associates. That practice has since grown to 35 physicians among five offices, two breastfeeding centers, and a research arm.
Lee has taught pharmacists, nurses, and doctors. Much of his teaching career has been through his relationship with the Department of Pediatrics at MUSC.
When his father was in his late 70s, he developed Alzheimer’s, prompting Lee to become more interested in brain health. The man who once gave sermons and performed marriages and eulogies suddenly had trouble carrying on a conversation.
This led to Lee’s fascination with brain chemistry and the science behind Omega-3 fatty acids. Such acids help with brain and cardiovascular health and immunity.
He also speaks nationally on human milk substitutes whose goal is to give nonbreastfed infants the nutrition that produces the same outcomes – higher IQs, better vision, fewer emotional issues, lower blood pressure – as are seen in breastfed infants.
When he’s not fundraising for SMC or working Lee enjoys birdwatching and has traveled all over the world to do it. “Birds live among people. Seeing them in their local habitat allows you to get to see, know, and better understand different peoples and cultures,” he said. Lee particularly enjoys watching birds on escapes to the mountains of Western North Carolina.
Looking forward, Lee sees a great future for SMC.
He sees needs like a new science building as stepping stones to make the College even more competitive. “I never thought I’d be working in philanthropy,” he said, “but I do it because it feels good and giving back is the right thing to do.”