Born: May 14, 1940
Died: June 29, 2012

Lee Patterson was born in Havre de Grace, Maryland, son of George Stuart Patterson '31 and Marguerite Applegate Bushnell Patterson. He grew up in Morristown, New Jersey and attended Peck School there. But he was born in Havre de Grace because his mother went into labor while on the train and they had to make an emergency stop in the nearest town. Lee prepared for Yale at St. Paul's School.

At Yale he was a member of Trumbull College and Fence Club and was on the Freshman Crew. In his autobiographical comments in our 50th Reunion Book, Lee described his undergraduate years with characteristic humor. "After spending a year and a half rowing on the crew, drinking too much, and generally behaving foolishly, I got married [Anne Candler Sammis in 1960], got a lot more serious, and discovered that Yale had classrooms, libraries and a superb faculty. They taught me that literature was not a dilettante affectation but something to which energetic and unpretentious people could commit their lives. The result has been that I have spent my working life in the company of writers and thinkers who are almost always interesting and instructive - indeed, endlessly so."

Lee was an English Honors major and Phi Beta Kappa.

After graduating he taught at Yale as a Carnegie Fellow for a year, and then spent the next year at Stamford in graduate work. He returned to Yale for his Ph.D., awarded in 1968.

Lee turned down an offer to join the Yale faculty and instead began his career as a medievalist at the University of Toronto where he spent 12 years. He has written approvingly of his experiences in Toronto and of the Canadian political system. He spent much of his spare time as an organizer and campaign manager for the New Democratic Party.

In 1979 Lee joined the English Department at Johns Hopkins where he taught and wrote until 1986. He then moved to Duke University as Professor of English and Chairman of the Medieval and Renaissance Center.

In 1994 he returned to Yale as Frederick Hilles Professor of English. He chaired Yale's Program in Medieval Studies from 1996 to 2000. He took emeritus status in 2009 but continued to write and lecture including at our 45th class reunion. Lee also led a number of Yale Alumni tours, including two to Italy and one to the Black Sea.

Lee focused his research and teaching on medieval literature of Europe, especially England and Chaucer, and on modernism, with a particular interest in James Joyce. Yale's official In Memoriam article credited his first book, "Negotiating the Past," with helping to revive interest in medieval studies.

His 1991 book, "Chaucer and the Subject of History" is widely hailed as the most important study of Chaucer in the 20th century. In addition to three other books on Chaucer, he also wrote numerous articles.

Lee is also widely regarded for changing the way museum educators approach teaching in the art museum. He argued through example and theory that the central pedagogical task in the museum is the discovery of meaning, not the perpetuation of traditional chronological and stylistic art historical methodologies.

Lee continuously taught National Endowment for Humanities seminars for high school teachers and for many summers was a teacher at the Bread Loaf School of English. He delivered many lectures worldwide, including the Matthews Lectures at Birkbeck College, University of London, and the Kress Lecture at the Frick Collection, New York. This latter activity marked a late turn of his interest to art history.

For his contributions, Lee received a 2006 Teaching Award from the Medieval Academy of America and the Christian Gauss Prize from Phi Beta Kappa for the best book in literary criticism, "Chaucer and the Subject of History."

Lee was divorced from Anne in 1968. He married Annabel Endicott in 1970 but they divorced in 2002. He is survived by his 5 children, Anne Patterson of New York City, Thomas Patterson of Saunderstown, Rhode Island, Felicity Laudisa of Toronto, Jason Endicott of Toronto, and Charles Patterson of Boston. He left 8 grandchildren: Nell Potter, Jackson Potter, Mia Potter, Elena Laudisa, Gabriel Laudisa, Will Patterson, Luke Patterson and Sophie Patterson. Lee was also survived by his two older brothers George Stuart Patterson of Santa Fe, New Mexico and Robert Patterson of Madison, Wisconsin.

Lee loved golf, biking and traveling. As he described in his own bio, "in the summers I would gather whichever of the children wished to accompany me and we would cycle through different parts of France. We just drifted: the starting and ending points of our journeys were more or less fixed, but the middle was always spontaneous and out of the way. This was a wonderful experience for me and for the children. It is not easy to find something to do with adolescent children that appeals to both generations. We had two rules: one was no monuments and no museums; the other was to take the smallest road we could find. These were wonderful experiences and went a long way to forming a deep bond between me and my children."

Lee played an important role in our 50th Reunion. It was he who was the inspiration for and guiding spirit of the class seminar, "What Yale Meant to Me" which was the highlight of our Saturday afternoon program. The genesis was a lunch at Mory's in 2010 with the chairman. Lee wanted classmates to share memories of their Yale experiences and how these had influenced their subsequent lives. Although he had been stricken with the brain tumor that was to claim his life within that very month, Lee opened the session with a stirring address while he kept silent about his illness so that the focus was not on him.

Lee also authored a commentary for our 50th Reunion Year Book, "Yale Then and Now," an illuminating comparison between our Yale 50 years before and Yale in 2012. Amidst the statistics, his observations say as much about Lee as a teacher as they do about Yale:

"If this is the age of globalization, then Yale is - as it wants to be and, in my opinion, should be - in the vanguard of a world in which people 'will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.'"

"One of the great pleasures of teaching Yale undergraduates is their intellectual curiosity. Of course they want to get good grades, of course they are competitive, of course they are overachievers. But the quality that most characterizes them - or at least many of the ones I have had the good fortune to teach - is their hunger for knowledge. Often when students came to say good-bye at the end of their senior year they would lament leaving Yale not because they were apprehensive about "the world outside" but because they regretted, despite their hard work and energy, that they had not taken advantage of everything that Yale has to offer. 'I never took Prof. X's course,' 'I missed out on Art History,' 'I wish I had another four years': these were the kinds of comments that I kept hearing from Yale students at the end of their undergraduate years."

His article and his own autobiographical essay in our Reunion Book are, indeed, both worth rereading.

A Memorial Service for Lee was held July 12, 2012 at Battell Chapel.

Classmate Bill Stott remembered their days together with the young Yale English Department faculty members and at Stanford. He paid tribute to Lee's "fantastic humor, aplomb, outspokenness, brilliance, courage. How I wish I'd had any of those virtues in equal measure to Lee's." Joe Graham's submission to the Yale Alumni Magazine provided a most fitting epitaph:

He will be missed and mourned by many, his family, his
friends, his colleagues, his students, and all those who
were touched by his dry sense of humor, his strict sense of
honor, and his deep sense of humanity.