On Saturday, 30 September, 2017, in Kingston, Ontario, 5576 Honorary Colonel Leonard Gordon Patrick Lee, (1938-2016), late of Almonte, and founder of Lee Valley Tools, was inducted into the Royal Military College of Canada Wall of Fame, joining such other ex-cadet luminaries as WWI flying ace, Billy Bishop,VC; LCol Cecil Merritt, winner of the Victoria Cross at Dieppe; and astronaut Chris Hatfield. There are now 37 RMC alumni recognized on the Wall of Fame.
Leonard Lee started life in a log cabin with no running water or electricity in Wadena, Saskatchewan and never forgot his humble roots. Len entered the Royal Military Colleges at Royal Roads in 1958 and the graduating class of 1962 from RMC, Kingston was proud to have him a member. Len also obtained a B.Econ (Honours) from Queen’s University, graduating in 1963.
After graduation, Len worked for the federal government for a period of 16 years, including two years as Trade Commissioner to Peru.
In 1985, Len founded Lee Valley Tools Ltd., a Canadian manufacturer and distributer of woodworking and gardening implements that filled a niche for high quality tools in Canada and beyond. In 2017, the company had 500 employees and 18 stores across Canada and made sales through its mail-order division within Canada, throughout the United States and in more than a dozen countries around the world. Len built the company around three guiding principles – integrity, customer satisfaction and customer involvement. Veritas Tools, Inc, set up in 1985, as the design and manufacturing arm of Lee Valley Tools, became a world leader in tool design and innovation. Len himself became known in the woodworking fraternity as the expert on tool sharpening. His “bible” of the industry, “The Complete Guide to Sharpening”, sold more than 100,000 copies world-wide.
In 2003, Len Lee was made a Member of the Order of Canada for his success as an entrepreneur. He also received Honorary Doctorates from Carleton University (2003), Ottawa University (2011) and his original alma mater, the Royal Military College of Canada (2007). Len is a recipient of the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee medals, and in 2014, was inducted into the Hardware and Housewares Industry Hall of Fame. Len was appointed Honorary Colonel of 14 Air Maintenance Squadron in 14 Wing, Greenwood, NS, in 2008.
Len was always very active in not-for-profit associations. He was a founding director of the Public Policy Forum, and was its Secretary-Treasurer for 15 years. He helped found the Woodworkers Alliance for Rainforest Protection and was the national director of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Len donated the honorariums from his many speaking engagements to charities, including the United Way and the hospital in his adopted hometown of Almonte. Patients at the Almonte General Hospital (AGH) can be thankful for their clean sheets and pillow cases as the output from “Lee’s Laundry”, an in-house hospital facility funded by the Lee family. Lee Valley Tools remain an important sponsor of AGH events.
Above all, Len was a family man, friend and volunteer. He was a natural leader who took a keen interest in everyone he met. His optimism, honesty, and especially his sense of humour, were apparent throughout his life. To his RMC classmates he opitomized the College’s motto of “Truth, Duty, Valour”. His Wall of Honour plaque is inscribed “Entrepreneur, Innovator, Business Leader, Volunteer, Philanthropist”.
Len is survived by his wife, Lorraine, sons Robin and James, and four grandchildren.
5471 John Coderre, RMC 1962