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Thomas Lee ’65, Harvard Donor and Billionaire Private Equity Investor, Dies at 78

Thomas H. Lee '65, a billionaire and prominent Harvard donor, died on Feb. 23 at age 78.
Thomas H. Lee '65, a billionaire and prominent Harvard donor, died on Feb. 23 at age 78. By Aiyana G. White
By Miles J. Herszenhorn and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

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Thomas H. Lee ’65, a billionaire private equity financier and prominent donor to Harvard, died on Thursday at 78, according to family friend and spokesperson Michael Sitrick.

Lee was found unresponsive in his Manhattan office bathroom Thursday morning, the New York Post reported. Julie Bolcer, a spokesperson for the New York City Chief Medical Examiner’s Office, wrote in an email that the medical examiner ruled Lee’s death a suicide, stating the cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Sitrick did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

In a statement published via PR Newswire Thursday, Sitrick said that the family is “extremely saddened” by Lee’s death.

“While the world knew him as one of the pioneers in the private equity business and a successful businessman, we knew him as a devoted husband, father, grandfather, sibling, friend and philanthropist who always put others’ needs before his own,” Sitrick said. “We ask that our privacy be respected and that we be allowed to grieve.”

Lee, a former resident of Leverett House, founded Thomas H. Lee Partners in 1974, a Boston-based firm where Lee helped establish the leveraged buyout investment strategy. He stepped down from his namesake firm in 2006 and went on to create Lee Equity Partners, a private equity firm based in New York.

On the homepage of Lee Equity Partners’ website, a pop-up message appeared Sunday evening announcing Lee’s death.

“Tom’s determination, commitment and strategic vision will continue to inspire all of us at Lee Equity Partners,” the message stated. “We will work every day to meet the high standards he has set for us and the entire industry.”

A major Harvard donor, Lee served as a national co-chair of the University’s capital campaign under President Neil L. Rudenstine. The campaign raised $2.6 billion before its conclusion in 1999.

Lee contributed $22 million to the capital campaign in 1996, the sixth-largest gift in the University’s history at the time. Unlike most donations, Lee’s gift was largely classified as unrestricted funds, which gave the University broad freedom in allocating the money.

At the time of his death, Lee served as a trustee of New York University Langone Medical Center and was an honorary trustee of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Lee is survived by his wife, Ann G. Tenenbaum; five children, Jesse, Nathan, Rosalie, Zach, and Robert; and two grandchildren.

Todd M. Abbrecht and Scott M. Sperling, who serve as co-chief executive officers of Thomas H. Lee Partners, wrote in a statement Thursday that Lee was “an iconic figure in private equity.”

“He helped pioneer an industry and mentored generations of young professionals who followed in his footsteps,” they wrote. “More importantly, he was a generous and gracious individual who cared deeply about his friends, his family, and his community.”

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.

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