Chih-Yuan Lee, Owner of House of Lee for 33 Years, Passed Away Wednesday
If you were fortunate enough to live, work, or grow up in the Temple area while House of Lee was still open, and if you ate there even once, you met Chih-Yuan Lee and he greeted you like an old friend.
Today, it grieves me to share the news that Mr. Lee (as we all knew him) has passed away.
According to his obituary, Mr. Lee went peacefully on Wednesday, May 1 at Baylor Scott & White. There will be a visitation for Mr. Lee at Belton's First Baptist Church from Noon to 1 PM Saturday, May 4, followed by a funeral at 1 PM and burial at Bellwood.
Mr. Lee's obituary shares details about his incredible life and his contributions to the Temple community far more eloquently than I could. You can read it here.
I can only write from my experience.
When I called to tell my mother the news, she was quiet for a moment, then said, "You know, I was taking you there when you were two months old."
I can't remember that far back, nor can I remember the time I allegedly belted out "10 Little Monkeys" in the restaurant with a little girl at another table while Mr. and Mrs. Lee laughed hysterically. (A favorite story of my mother's.)
What I do remember is our weekly trips to House of Lee while I was growing up. Mr. Lee always greeted visitors as they came in. You'd almost NEVER see him without one of his baseball caps on.
As a kid, I always thought it was kind of funny seeing a man in a nice suit and a scrappy old baseball cap shaking hands with people. As I got older and started paying more attention to all the photos on the wall, I realized that those caps and those photos told the story of a man who'd met countless great people, from presidents to celebrities and millionaire athletes, but never forgot to be humble and kind.
Mr. Lee had that in common with a good friend of his - Gene Pemberton. He and Gene were both men of deep Christian faith and conviction who never let their brushes with fame go to their heads. We lost Gene back in January. Now Temple is minus two of its most generous and kind-hearted legends.
I wasn't as close to Mr. Lee as I was Gene, but both gave me gifts that will always mean a great deal to me. I wrote about Gene's gift in January - a slip of paper with words to give me strength and confidence in times of need. Mr. Lee's gift was one he gave countless kids who went to House of Lee on their birthday - a coin wrapped in red paper that would grant your deepest, purest wish if you tucked it under your pillow.
My mom has that coin, so I couldn't snap a photo to share with you. What I did have was an old House of Lee business card that's been pinned to my fridge since before the restaurant closed. It's funny how often I've looked at it and not even seen it over the years. Today, it makes my heart ache for a simpler time and better days.
Rest in peace, Mr. Lee. And thank you for the memories and great food.