Celebrating USTA NorCal's Gary Lee and his contributions to AAPI representation
It’s difficult to choose where to start to define Gary Lee.
Lee was a 25 year USTA volunteer. He’s a retired dentist. He’s a father to three daughters, all of whom went on to play collegiate tennis. He's a proud grandfather, with two of them now high level junior players.
Perhaps though, Lee is best defined as simply a human being, who saw inequity for people who looked like him in the sport he loved and put change in motion.
As a volunteer, there weren’t many positions Lee didn’t hold.
He started getting involved when his daughters started playing and like many parents, was interested in the workings of what they were playing in.
“That ran a span of quite a few years,” Lee recalls. “We were continuously taking the kids to tournaments and everything so I got involved at that time in different committees.”
At the urging of the late Bob Cookson, Lee began to get involved in the politics of the section.
At USTA NorCal, Lee served on the Board and as Section President and nearly every role on down. He saw time on nearly every committee in the section during his time as a volunteer.
At the national level, he’s similarly decorated but to name a few: Men’s Senior International Team Coordinator, Brittania Cup Team Captain, Men’s 65-captain (as a non-playing captain), the vice chair of the Senior International Team Committee, the Federation Cup Committee Chair and the USTA Nominating Committee in 1999 and 2000.
He held a USTA Board position too as the Pacific Region Vice President in 1991 and 1992.
His experience at the national level included helping construct Arthur Ashe Stadium. The national Board Lee was on was the first under Cookson’s leadership and Cookson and his board originated the idea of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Lee and that Board were part of the earliest stages of planning, reviewing initial plans and each member taking on an aspect to review with the architects.
It was as he ascended the ladder that Lee began to notice a trend. He was the first person of color to serve as USTA NorCal president and the first on the national USTA Board.
Lee and the national board he was on were instrumental in starting diversity committees and increasing representation throughout the different sections.
“At that time we were regular attendees at the national meetings and there was no representation on any of the national committees,” Lee said. “I’m proud of being one of the pioneers in starting that.”
What Lee sees now is a USTA that has diversified and carried forward the efforts that he helped begin years ago, like the Multicultural Participation Committee. He remembers when his daughters played tournaments and there would be token representation compared to the draws his grandkids are in now which are far more widely represented.
“I’ve noticed as the years went on that it’s increased and increased which is good, that’s great,” Lee said.
Speaking of grandkids, Lee gets particular joy these days in watching them play and seeing tennis transcend generations in the family. Though tournaments were a big part of the Lee family routine, it was always more about spending time together than winning or losing and these days Lee is happy just seeing it handed down.
“That really is very satisfying,” he says. “Tennis is such a great sport. If you compete or just play really, it gives you such a solid background. It teaches you life lessons so that as you grow up from being a junior, it gives you good examples of sportsmanship and losing and winning. And it isn’t always about winning. It’s a great lesson in life."
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