Family has always been at the center of the Lee household. Richard Lee is an entrepreneur and real-estate developer in sunny Orlando, Florida, and a supporter of State Policy Network since 2015.
Since taking over the family business more than 50 years ago, his children, sons-in-law, and grandchildren have also become involved and have helped it grow into a local household name in the Orlando area.
Richard’s story is one many share of the American Dream. His father worked on an oil rig and lived in a tent, moving frequently for work, including as a dynamiter in a rock quarry in East Texas. He eventually settled in Florida with his wife, Elizabeth, and started a dairy farm in 1925 – buying one cow and one calf. When they sold the dairy, it had sales of over $90 million.
Richard grew up working on the farm and dairy operation, learning the ins and outs of the business. When his father turned over the keys to Richard, they sold the milk company in the 1970s and eventually turned their farm into the LeeVista community development. The name “Vista” came from Richard’s mother, who said “the Lees have always had a vision into the future.”
And so they did. LeeVista has built and dedicated to the City of Orlando 10 miles of roadways, developed 800,000 square feet of office space, 2.5 million in industrial space, 750,000 in commercial space, and 4,500 units of hotels and apartments. Today, three generations of the Lee family (including Richard and Kathy’s six grandchildren) now own or manage the LeeVista Center.
Richard had always leaned conservative (he says he must have gotten it from his father), but it wasn’t until the Obama administration that his eyes opened to the harm the federal government causes average Americans when it grows too intrusive through programs like the Affordable Care Act, tax hikes, and major spending programs. He saw the direction the country was headed and decided to get involved in organizations focused on preserving that American Dream for future generations. For decades, the family has given to many causes they believed in and has taught the value of philanthropy to their children.
Richard started supporting the work of State Policy Network because of our focus on the states.
“The 10th Amendment and the Founders’ vision of a country with decentralized government really appeals to me,” said Richard. “I enjoy meeting all of the great people who work at SPN and all of the young people that are part of the Network. And Tracie is unbelievable. I am so impressed with her and what she’s built.”
Richard attended SPN’s Annual Meeting in 2019 in Colorado Springs and was inspired by the many young people he saw and the stories of impact he heard from across the Network. He had such a great experience that he returned for SPN’s 2021 Annual Meeting and introduced SPN staff to a number of his family and friends.
In 2021, Richard decided to make a special investment in SPN towards a unique fellowship focused on communicating federalism (empowering states, rather than the federal government, to make decisions) to the public.
Richard created the Lee Family Fellowship and sponsored the work of SPN’s senior messaging strategist Erin Norman. Erin, who came to SPN with over a decade of messaging and polling expertise, is focused on measuring public opinion on federalism and SPN priority issues like education, healthcare, economic policy, and government overreach. With that data, she is equipping our 50-state Network with powerful messaging to show how state solutions, not the federal government, are better able to meet the unique needs of Americans.
Through the Lee family’s support, Erin conducts regular focus groups of people affected by policy change (educators, workers, business owners, etc) and helps identify where we can strengthen our Network’s messaging.
“Richard is making this important work possible. It brings so much value to our Network and we are now getting requests from our partners for more so we can help advance their strategies and push back on the federal government,” she said. “This new resource would not be possible without the Lee family.”