Grace Ku Lee ’79: Creating a family legacy of giving

August 9, 2023

Grace Ku was a first-year student when friends set her up on a blind date with Ken Lee, who was a graduate student. Her friends had good instincts: Grace ‘79 and Ken ‘74 fell in love, got married, and went on to successful careers; Grace as executive director at the National Park Trust and Ken as a cardiologist. While the Lees remained close to Duke and the many friends they made there, their relationship with their alma mater was further deepened when their children Bethany ‘07 and Brian ‘11 matriculated.

“We have so many reasons to be thankful to Duke,” says Grace. “Our lives would have been very different had Duke not accepted us. There weren’t that many Asian students back then, but Duke made us feel welcome. Duke has been absolutely pivotal in the academic and professional growth of our family, and in creating friendships for life.”

As Chair of the Duke Chapel National Advisory Board, Grace brings her faith and love of Duke to bear on her volunteer and philanthropic leadership. “I live by the adage that those who have reaped many blessings in life have a responsibility to pay it back now and to pay it forward. That’s why we support Duke Chapel, the Libraries, and Trinity College.”

When Grace and Ken began discussing their estate plans, they knew that they wanted to include their children in the conversation.  As part of their planned gift, they have asked Bethany and Brian to be involved in how those gifts will be allocated when the time comes. “I’ve always felt that it’s important to instill a culture of philanthropy in our family,” she says. “As Duke’s goals and priorities change and evolve, our kids will be involved in the decision-making about how the money will be spent.”

The Lees have designated the Chapel, Libraries, and Trinity College in their bequest, including a focus on financial aid. “Every person who gets accepted to Duke is qualified to attend, and money shouldn’t be the obstacle that prevents them from doing so. It’s something I care about in my professional career as well—making sure that every child, regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic status, has an opportunity to visit and enjoy our national parks.”

As a member of WIN, Grace says she appreciates that Duke recognizes the importance and reality of women’s influence on families’ philanthropic decisions. “So often it’s the woman who is driving these conversations about philanthropy, even if the man writes the check. You cannot underestimate the role that women play in making these important decisions, and it’s important that organizations like Duke value and steward those female donors as much as their male counterparts.”