Wallace L. Lee: In Memoriam
Originally published: 05.01.13 by Jim Norris
Wallace Lee passed away on March 26, 2013. He was 82. He was interred at the Lee family plot on the Triple L Ranch in Franklin, TN, on March 28.
Wallace was the Past President of the Lee Company, a major mechanical contracting firm and a Past President of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), having served in 1984-1985.
Those are the facts about this dynamic leader who changed the mechanical contracting industry and ACCA. Those facts only begin the story.
The first thing one needs to know about Wallace Lee is that he was a man of faith. He had a deep and abiding trust in his Creator that directed everything he did in life. Wallace’s sense of honor, honesty, courage, dedication, and respect for others was rooted in his faith.
He was a man of unshakable integrity. In 1981, when his company suffered a devastating loss and was significantly in debt, Wallace took his financial statements to his banker and laid out the truth.
“Now we need to throw these away because we’re starting over. I’ll pay you and all our creditors within two years if you’ll work with me.” Two years later, everyone was paid.
Wallace Lee was a fabulous visionary who shared his vision of the future with anyone who would listen.
• He and his brother Ted bought the family heating business from their Dad and built the Lee Company into a very successful design/build contracting company with over $100 million in annual sales.
• He built the Triple L Ranch into a world leader in cattle genetics and sold his personally bred Polled Hereford cattle to ranchers throughout North America and Europe.
• He transformed ACCA into a leading voice of the HVAC/mechanical contracting industry.
He accomplished all of this through his charismatic leadership. People just didn’t want to let Wallace Lee down. He could fill a room with hope and aspiration.
Wallace would never tell others what to do — he’d just show them what he was doing. For many years, he was a popular featured speaker at association meetings and industry gatherings.
He identified himself as a “thief of ideas” and urged others to follow his example.
In his deceptively simple, homespun way, he taught literally thousands of contractors how to be successful as design/build mechanical contractors. If a contractor wanted to thrive in business, he needed only do what Wallace Lee was talking about.
He maintained extremely high standards for the employees of the Lee Company. He demanded excellence and honesty in all dealings with customers. He never settled for less.
And he totally loved his employees. This would be obvious when I visited the business and Wallace introduced me to one employee after another who had been with him for 20, 25, or 30 years. He took great pride in their success with the Lee Company.
Wallace was a dedicated family man. After finishing his tour of duty in the service, he and his wife Ann bought a plot of land outside of Nashville as a safe and secure place to raise their family and pursue their dream of raising cattle. That plot of land grew into the Triple L Ranch.
Wallace and Ann had five children. Four of them live full time on the Triple L. The fifth teaches in Nashville and lives on the ranch on weekends. Ten grandchildren live on the ranch.
One son, Bill Lee, runs the Lee Company. His brother Steven runs the ranch. Son-in-law Daniel Fold, daughter Carol’s husband, is Herdsman. They do this — they live there — they work there — because they want to. That’s a remarkable testament to the kind of man Wallace was.
Wallace Lee was an absolute joy to be with. We traveled Europe together, we visited the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, and we camped in Alaska four or five times. He was interested in everything: history, science, genetics, psychology, politics, and more.
Wallace Lee was a true friend who inspired me to be a better person. I shall spend the rest of my life striving to be the kind of person he knew I could be. n
Jim Norris was the Executive Vice President of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America from 1969 to 1998. He left ACCA in 1998 to take the position of Chairman of the Board of GroupMac. Jim is now retired and works as a stage actor in Lewisburg, WV.