Photos & Story by Marianne Salza
Non-profit professional, Alyce Lee, former chief-of-staff for the late Boston mayor, Tom Menino, discussed her philosophy of “Doing Well by Doing Good” during her January 9 Beacon Hill Women’s Forum (BHWF) presentation at The Hampshire House.
“Really love the depth of who you are, and who you are trying to be in the world,” said Lee, 64-years-old. “Even when things are hard, you can still love yourself. Your family and friends still love you.”
For over 20 years, Lee has been volunteering to causes that improve quality of life for the Greater Boston community. She has donated her efforts to ArtsEmerson, Associates of the Boston Public Library, New England Foundation for the Arts, and the Pine Street Inn.
Lee has served as trustee and chair on the Committee for Student and Academic Affairs at the University of Massachusetts, and was a founding trustee of Boston Medical Center, where she spent 17 years volunteering.
The most important lesson that Lee has learned is that when she articulates why she believes her actions are just, people will listen.
“Doing the right thing always pays off,” declared Lee, who attributes her principles to her father’s influence.
Lee was raised in a working class family. Her mother constructed tires and airplane parts. Her father was a head of maintenance for the United States Postal Service, ultimately becoming a city councilor. As a young girl, Lee participated in her father’s campaigns — answering questions and engaging in conversations with constituents.
“I grew up realizing that I had something to say, and people had things they wanted to say to me. When you grow up like that, it is natural as breathing,” Lee described. “That was something I didn’t realize was an incredible gift. For my dad, that came from the spirit of my grandmother.”
Lee inherited her family’s outspoken honesty and ambition. Following a lynching in the family, her paternal grandmother’s loved ones fled from South Carolina to Springfield, Massachusetts, where they reestablished their lives.
“Strangely, that’s the beginning of my story. The entire time that I was growing up, the Civil Rights Movement was going on,” remembered Lee. “My dad, in particular, felt like he had to prepare me and my siblings to understand that we had a contribution to make to the world.”
Lee was the first African American girl to graduate from Groton School, a private boarding school in Massachusetts. There, she personally experienced racism from a math teacher; but her father encouraged her to always see and speak the truth.
“There isn’t anybody in this room who is on the exact same wavelength,” acknowledged Lee. “The only way that we can get on the same page is to be honest about where we are.”
While studying at Wellesley College, Lee met her husband, Patrick, at her economic development internship. The two bonded over shared ideals of supporting the disadvantaged, and raised four daughters together in Boston.
Lee gained financial analysis skills during her time as a loan officer at the First National Bank of Boston; but the work that made her feel like she was making a difference in the world was when she served as the executive director of the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation. There, she directed the construction of 600 units of low income family housing in Dorchester.
Her efforts with Codman Square led to her work directing the operations of Mayor Menino’s office, including chairing his cabinet.
“As cantankerous as he could be, he was a fun and loving guy. We got along famously to the bitter end. We often had differences of opinion; but it never interfered in our relationship,” explained Lee, whose husband and long-time friends affectionately refer to her as “Al.” “He was a good man. He made things happen. He had a big, soft heart in a rough exterior.”