Army Veteran, Chinatown Optometrist
Shew Kuhn Lee, 84, a decorated World War II Army veteran and an optometrist in Washington's Chinatown for nearly four
decades, died of pneumonia May 18 at Sibley Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Lee, who was also known as S.K. and Jimmy, was born in Baltimore and spent most of his youth in Canton, China. After
returning to the United States, he eventually settled in the District and attended the old Central High School before being drafted
into the Army.
During World War II, he served in the Army's 45th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop as platoon sergeant to 30 men under Gen.
George S. Patton, receiving a battlefield commission to second lieutenant by the end of the war. He also served in the
European-African-Middle Eastern theater; in campaigns in Naples-Foggia, Rome-Arno, southern France, Rhineland,
Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe; and in the Army of Occupation. His awards included the Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf
Cluster and Purple Heart.
When he was sent out on secret missions, he always had plenty of volunteers because he never lost any of his men, said
Florence Lee, noting her husband's leadership skills and keen senses of observation and direction.
After the war, Dr. Lee received a GED and attended the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago. In 1949, he graduated, married
and returned to Washington.
Dr. Lee eventually bought a building on Seventh Street NW, around the corner from the present Chinatown arch, and opened a
private practice, becoming the first Chinese-American optometrist in Washington. He retired in 1988.
He also became the first Chinese American to serve on the D.C. board of optometric examiners and was a life member of the
D.C. Optometric Society and American Optometric Association.
In 1960, he organized the first Chinese-American (Chi-Am) Lions Club in Washington and became its charter president, zone
chairman and deputy district governor.
He was a great promoter of the Lions Club. While on vacation with his wife on their 25th anniversary, he organized the first
Canadian Chinese Lions Club in Toronto, in 1974.
He was an honorary member of the Capitol Hill and Washington Host Lions clubs and was on the Lions Eye Bank and
A life member of the American Legion, Dr. Lee was the first Chinese-American commander of the American Legion in
Washington. He was the founder of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and trustee for the Lee Association. At its
height, the Lee Association held an annual celebration in Chinatown that brought together as many as 1,000 family members
and area residents.
Dr. Lee was listed in Who's Who in the World since 1984 and worked as a vision research consultant.
Survivors include his wife of 57 years, Florence Lee of Washington; two sons, Wayson Lee of Washington and Davin Lee of
Huntsville, Ala.; a brother, Hay K. Lee of Greenbelt; a sister, Yut Ong Yee of St. Clair Shores, Mich.; and six grandchildren.