John J. Lee
With sadness, the MBL shares the passing of John J. Lee, professor emeritus at City College of New York, on November 6, 2023. Dr. Lee was a member of the MBL Society and served on the Microbial Ecology course faculty in 1980. The MBL flag will be lowered in his honor.
Dr. Lee was director of the Marine Microbial Ecology Laboratory at City College of New York for more than 50 years. Starting with the discovery of a new protozoan parasite while still a student, he discovered and named many species of protozoa, dinoflagellates, and diatoms, with a talent for culturing these eukaryotic microbes.
He spent many summers at the MBL, doing fieldwork in the Great Sippewissett salt marsh on informational energy flow and ecological efficiency in marine systems. He was passionate about the health of the estuarine environment, testifying before New York legislature and producing and narrating educational films for school children. Dr. Lee often brought his research students to field sampling sites near his home in Woods Hole, where they would learn about the ecological context of the organisms they studied in the lab, enjoy the saltwater, and leave with their samples after enjoying a good meal provided by his late wife, Judy.
The full obituary provided by Dr. Lee’s family is reprinted below.
John Joseph Lee, of Lisle, IL, professor emeritus at City College of New York, passed away November 6, 2023, at the age of 90. He was a long-time resident of Hillsdale, N.J. and Woods Hole, Mass.
Born in Philadelphia to Janet Strouse Hagedorn Lee and John Joseph Hagedorn, as John Joseph Hagedorn, III, he was adopted by Herbert Lee at age 3. As a child he was interested in nature, always picking up rocks and exceling in science at school, earning Boy Scout science merit badges, and scholastic awards. He earned his B.S. at Queens College, where he met his beloved wife, Judy. He started his research career investigating protozoan parasites in reptiles, first receiving his M.S. at University of Massachusetts, with Dr. Bronislaw Honigberg and later earning his Ph.D. at New York University, in the laboratory of Richard P. Hall.
Dr. Lee was director of the Marine Microbial Ecology Laboratory at City College of New York for more than 50 years where he taught microbiology, wastewater engineering microbiology, electron microscopy, general biology, and science writing. He wrote and edited several microbiology texts. During that time, he was named a Distinguished Professor and received many awards from the university and from various professional societies. His laboratory was closely associated with Haskins Laboratory at Pace University for many years in the 1960s and 1970s, as he often collaborated with Dr. Seymour Hutner and his students. Starting with the discovery of a new protozoan parasite when working on his MS, he discovered and named many species of protozoa, dinoflagellates, and diatoms, with a talent for culturing these eukaryotic microbes. At City College, Dr. Lee served terms as Deputy Graduate Chair and Chair of the Biology Department. He was an active member of the Faculty Senate and Faculty Council.
Dr. Lee was a supportive mentor to his students, and he was most proud of the teaching awards he earned from student groups. He brought his research students to field sampling sites, often near his home in Woods Hole where the students would learn about the ecological context of the organisms they studied in the lab, enjoy the saltwater, and leave with their samples after enjoying a good meal provided by his wife, Judy. His students characterized him as patient and kind, always willing to spend the time to cultivate independence in research and scientific thought. He mentored numerous graduate and undergraduate students, specifically championing women and minority students at a time when this was uncommon, introducing them to research.
Trained at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in radionuclide methods and safety in the early 1960s, Dr. Lee pioneered the use of radiological tracers to elucidate feeding preferences of meiofauna and protozoa in marine ecosystems in the laboratory. He spent many summers at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, doing fieldwork in the Great Sippewissett salt marsh on informational energy flow and ecological efficiency in marine systems. He was passionate about the health of the estuarine environment, testifying before New York legislature and producing and narrating educational films for school children.
A keen observer of natural phenomena, his curiosity about “giant,” macroscopic, marine protozoa led to a new chapter in his research investigating symbioses in foraminifera. He and his students traveled to field sites in Florida, Hawaii, Australia, and Israel to collect specimens and study these organisms. He gave many public lectures and wrote popular science articles on foraminiferal symbiosis and was one of the founders of the International Symbiosis Society, serving as their first president. He was also the recipient of the Cushman Foundation Award for excellence in foraminiferal research.
Dr. Lee was a visiting scientist at the H. Steinitz Marine Lab in Eilat, Israel for over 30 years where he conducted research, mentored students, served as an aquaculture consultant, and taught courses. He also taught field-based courses in Japan, Kenya, and Australia. He was an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an elected member of the Marine Biological Laboratory Society.
A talented scientific illustrator, Dr. Lee was noted for his pen and ink drawings that ranged from scientifically accurate depictions of protozoa to whimsical microbes that illustrated annual holiday cards and tee shirts. He was the driving force behind The Illustrated Guide to the Protozoa, published by the Society of Protozoologists in 1985, which contains many of his detailed drawings. He served as the president of the Society of Protozoologists (1990-1991).
Dr. Lee started his lifelong association with the American Museum of Natural History as a young boy when he picked up a rock with fossils in it while hiking in the Catskill Mountains. His father took him to a public outreach discovery day at the museum where a staff scientist told him about the marine creatures in the rock, sparking his interest in science and his fondness for the AMNH. In the 1960s, he established the Laboratory of Living Foraminifera at the museum with NYU graduate school classmate, Dr. Hugo Freudenthal. He also served the AMNH as their first Radiation Safety Officer, starting in 1963. When he moved his wet lab research to City College, he continued as a member of the museum staff, working with the electron microscope facilities, training students, and contributing to exhibits for more 50 years.
Dr. Lee was civic-minded and volunteered widely in the community. Although he was an Eagle Scout and a Boy Scout Leader in his youth, he started volunteering with the Ridgewood, N.J., YMCA in the 1970s when he and his son, James, joined the Indian Guides, continuing that association with the YMCA for more than 30 years. He introduced model rocketry to youth both in Ridgewood and at Camp Bernie, served as a trustee for more than 20 years, and was honored by the Ridgewood YMCA with their Lifetime Achievement Award.
Dr. Lee was as an elected trustee of the Hillsdale, N..J Board of Education for more than 15 years (1973-1988), including serving as president. He and his late wife were active members of Temple Beth Or in Washington Township, N.J., and he was president of the congregation from 1981-1983. He also received an award from B’nai B’rith in Bergen County, N.J. for his volunteer service to the community. He and Judy loved the theater both in Bergen County, N.J. and on Cape Cod where they were long-time patrons of the College Light Opera Company.
He was predeceased by his beloved wife of 63 years, Judith Raskin Lee (1934-2019). He leaves two children, Monica Lee Tischler (husband Jonathan) of Lisle, Ill., and James Lee (wife Lorraine) of Northborough, Mass., and three grandchildren, Dory Tischler Molloy (husband Dan), Alice Tischler, and Margot Lee.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Mass; or the College Light Opera Company, Falmouth, Mass.