- Learn More
Vincent Leroy Lee
October 20, 1903-June 6, 1979
Architect, Member of Parliament
Unassuming, dedicated and diligent, Vincent Leroy Lee was one of Bermuda’s first black architects and the second black person to represent Southampton in the House of Assembly.
He designed homes, commercial buildings and churches, among them Spot Restaurant, the Salvation Army’s Newlands Corps, Evening Light Tabernacle and Vernon Temple parsonage, the Bassett and the Recorder buildings on Court Street, as well as Somerset Cricket Club and Southampton Rangers. He was also the architect for renovations carried out at St. George’s and Clay House Inn.
Outside of his profession, he was deeply committed to public service: he had a strong interest in education, and he successfully lobbied the Government to build a new primary school in Southampton (which became Heron Bay Primary). He served on several boards and drew plans pro bono for organisations he held dear.
Vincent Lee was born in Pembroke, the only child of Agnes Jane (Smith) Lee and Charles William Lee. His mother died in 1905, when he was only 17-months-old, and he was raised by his uncle and aunt, Frank and Theodosia Albuoy. He attended Jairus Swan’s primary school in Hamilton, and worked as a printer after leaving school.
Vincent’s father, Charles, had moved to New York in 1906, where he held a variety of jobs, including a horse and carriage driver in Central Park. In 1912, he married his second wife, Lillian Ernestine Outerbridge.
In 1920, Vincent joined his father and stepmother in New York, where he took advantage of educational opportunities that were widely available in the US.
He attended Brooklyn Preparatory School, and the Pratt Institute School of Architecture from 1925 to 1926.
He gained work experience with the Paterson-King Corporation, a firm of architects, engineers and builders before returning to Bermuda in 1931. In 1932, he married Edna Belvina DeRoza, a Southampton woman of Bermudian and Cape Verdean ancestry, at St. Mary’s Church, Warwick. They set up home in Southampton.
Lee initially found it difficult getting established and was forced to work as a hotel bellman in order to make ends meet.
But by 1937, he had designed several homes, and had begun work on two commercial projects: The Recorder and Bassett buildings. The projects made the front page of the Recorder, which noted that the buildings “should be quite an asset to Court Street, which is fact coming into its own as one of the leading thoroughfares in the city.”
Lee initially worked for a private firm C. Browning and Vokes, but in 1944, he struck out on his own, opening his own architectural studio at the Arcade building on Burnaby Street, Hamilton. The Recorder described the venture as “the first of its kind to be made by a member of his race.”
Lee found time to work with the Southampton Political Association, one of the parish political machines established to get black candidates elected to Parliament in the years before universal adult suffrage.
He threw his hat into the ring in a November 1951 by-election in Southampton, handily defeating fellow black candidate Hilton Hill.
In his election victory speech, Lee noted that Government had recently approved £32,000 to build a new primary school in Southampton. Lee, who had been chairman of the school’s PTA, said he had been asking for something to be done about the existing school for 15 years.
Lee was a Member of Colonial Parliament—which is what MPs were called back then—for less than two years and was a member of the Board of Trade, the forerunner of the Tourism Board. He did not stand in the 1953 general election and gave no reasons for his decision.
Still as an MCP, he backed educational programmes, including a new sports field for The Berkeley Institute. He opposed a plan, which was ultimately defeated, to cut funding for scholarships. He also supported an unsuccessful petition by the Catholic Church to build a second school in Warwick.
After leaving Parliament, he remained active at the parish level: he was elected to the Southampton Parish Vestry and served as Tax Collector and Overseer of the Poor.
He was also a member of the advisory board of the Salvation Army and the Board of Governors of the Bermuda Technical Institute, which opened in 1957.
At the official opening of the Salvation Army’s Newlands Corps and Youth Centre in Pembroke in January 1957, Lee was on hand as a board member and as the architect who drew the plans at no charge.
Lee was active up to the 1960s—in 1959, building contractor LL Newton Butterfield said he had drawn 7,000 plans during his 30-year-old career. He was the architect for St. George’s Cricket Club’s expanded clubhouse, which was unveiled on the eve of Cup Match 1961.
In 1969, his expertise was recognised with his appointment to Government’s Arbitration Tribunal-Compusory Acquisition of Land board.
Vincent and Belvina Lee had one son, Charles Joseph Lee, who was named after his grandfather. Charles (1878-1956) and Lillian Lee (1881-1960) eventually moved back to Bermuda, where they would spend the rest of their lives.
Vincent Lee died in 1979, his wife Belvina in 2000. His wife’s cousin Reginald Burrows, at the time an Opposition MP, led the tributes paid to him in Parliament. He was survived by his son Charles, daughter-in-law Margaret and grandsons Carlos, Stanley and Michael.
Vincent Lee’s work as a pioneering architect was recalled in 2014 when Government’s Emancipation Committee honoured 12 families, including the Lees, for their contribution to Bermuda.
In 2014, when black Bermudian architects remain underrepresented in the profession, he remains a trailblazer.
October 20, 1903—Vincent Lee is born in Pembroke
February 1905—His mother Agnes Jane Lee dies; Lee is 17-months-old
1906—His father moves to New York, leaving Vincent to be raised by his aunt and uncle, Frank and Theodosia Albuoy.
1912—Charles Lee marries his second wife Lillian Outerbridge in New York.
May 1920—Vincent Lee joins his father and stepmother in New York.
1920s—Furthers his education at Brooklyn Preparatory School, followed by the Pratt Institute; gains work experience at the Paterson-King Corporation.
1931—Returns to Bermuda
October 1932—Marries Belvina DeRoza
1930s—Establishes himself in Bermuda as an architect and gradually obtains commissions
1937—Work begins on two of his projects: the Recorder building and the Bassett Building on Court Street
1944—Opens his studio in the Arcade building
Nov 1, 1951—Elected to Parliament in a by-election
1957—Official opening of Salvation Army Newlands Corps and Youth Centre; Lee drew the plans for no fee.
July 1961—St George’s Cricket Club unveils new club house, designed by Vincent Lee, on the eve of Cup Match.
1969—Appointed to the Arbitration-Compulsory Acquisition of Land Tribunal
June 1979—MPs pay tribute in Parliament following Lee’s death
“Under that mild-mannered exterior, however, is an inexhaustible determination to do the things that are necessary to make Bermuda a better place.”
“I look upon myself as a man of action, and while I realize that this step into the House of Assembly will present different problems than are met in parish work, I have always been able to adapt myself to the work before me. I will endeavour to vote right on all matters that come before the House and do my best for the good of the country.”
—Vincent Lee, following his election to the House of Assembly (The Royal Gazette, November 2, 1951)
“Court Street Scene of Building Activity”, Bermuda Recorder, September 11, 1937
“Local Architect Opens Studio in Hamilton,” Bermuda Recorder, October 11, 1944
Personality of the Week profile, Bermuda Recorder, October 27, 1951
“Lee Wins Southampton Seat with a 92 Majority”—The Royal Gazette, November 2, 1951
“Lee Takes Seat in House Less Than 24 Hours After Defeating Hill”—Bermuda Recorder, November 3, 1951
“Finance Committee Told ‘Political Dynamite’ In Proposed Education Cuts”—Bermuda Recorder, November 19, 1952
“Large Gathering at Opening of Salvation Army Newlands Citadel”—Bermuda Recorder, January 5, 1957
LL Newton Butterfield speech given at the opening of his showroom—Bermuda Recorder, September 26, 1959
“St. George’s Undergoes Major Face-Lifting for Annual Cup Match”—Bermuda Recorder, July 29, 1961
“Tribute Paid to Mr. Vincent Lee”, The Royal Gazette, June 1979
“Convening of Arbitration Tribunal—Compulsory Acquisition of Land”—Bermuda Recorder, April 18, 1969
Conversation with Charles and Margaret Lee—December 2014
Pratt Institute Office of the Registrar