Inspiring Innovation: Henry Lee speaks at an award ceremony for Harvard Kennedy School's Roy Family Environmental Award, coordinated biennially by Lee's Environmental and Natural Resources Program.
"Spotlight on Henry Lee"
Author: James F. Smith, Communications Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Environment and Natural Resources
Henry Lee, director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program at the Belfer Center, was promoted in January to senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School. Lee, the Jassim M. Jaidah Family Director of the environment program, serves also as coprincipal investigator of the Center’s Energy Technology Innovation Policy project and is a member of the board of directors. Before joining the Kennedy School in 1979, he served in Massachusetts state government for nine years as director of the state energy office and special assistant for environmental affairs.
Few Americans can have the spirit of public service embedded more deeply in their DNA than the Belfer Center’s Henry Lee. And few have been as singleminded in putting that spirit to work.
When Lee was not quite a year old, his parents took him to Harvard Yard for Secretary of State George Marshall’s famous speech in June 1947, announcing what would become the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. Lee’s father was then a Harvard sophomore and went on to become a career diplomat and one of Boston’s civic leaders.
The family’s neighbor in Washington in the late 1950s was a young U.S. senator from Massachusetts who gave Lee, then 11 or 12 years old, passes to the U.S. Senate gallery.
It doesn’t seem like coincidence that Henry Lee has spent the past 31 years in the Harvard graduate school bearing the name of that senator and soontobe president, John F. Kennedy.
Lee recalls that he was in the Boston Public Garden in November 1960, the night before the election, for JFK’s final campaign speech.
“He was six hours late. There were 20,000 people waiting, and when he finally arrived, it was the loudest roar I had ever heard in my life,” Lee said. “It got me hooked on government.”
In prep school in North Andover, Mass., Lee became president of the school’s Young Democrats and campaigned for gubernatorial candidates. In 1970, the recent Harvard College graduate went to work for Republican Governor Francis Sargent for a threemonth internship, unpaid—except for some tickets to the Boston Patriots football team.
At 24, he was put in charge of the small state office handling environment and natural resources issues.
Lee took a break to become one of the youngest midcareer graduate students at the Kennedy School, earning an MPA in June 1974. Sargent then named him director of the state’s energy office. When Democrat Michael Dukakis was elected later that year, Lee figured his short career was over. But Dukakis kept him on after reading a prescient policy paper Lee had written. They worked together for the next four years amid successive energy crises, and Lee’s staff grew to about 100.
“I enjoyed state government,” Lee said of his nine years of state service. “You could pull together a coalition of four or five people and get something done.”
After Dukakis was defeated in a bitter primary, Lee joined the Kennedy School in 1979 for a oneyear fellowship that he never imagined would turn into a lifetime of academic service. He soon was named executive director of the Energy and Environmental Policy Program. In 1991, he became a lecturer. And he found that he enjoyed teaching.
He also found that he enjoyed putting research teams together, and he proved adept at raising research funds and running projects. He pursued a series of related subjects, ranging from national parks policy to energy security.
As the student body became more international, Lee began to travel more himself, researching and consulting in Brazil on infrastructure and then working across Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia.
“I’ve been to 35 countries,” he said. “I’ve been involved in 10 to 12 policy areas since I’ve been here. So I’ve had 10 or 12 jobs over that period.”
In January, Lee was promoted to senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School.
Lee said he was especially gratified to work with HKS fellow Doug Ahlers on the Broadmoor Project, helping to rebuild that neighborhood in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Carolyn Wood, the assistant academic dean, worked closely with Ahlers and Lee throughout the Broadmoor Project. She said Lee’s commitment was typical of his career at the Kennedy School.
“Henry is a citizen of the school in the classic sense,” she said. “Whatever the school needs done, he will do. When we asked him to take on the principal investigator role for Broadmoor, for him it was the right thing to do—it was an ethical decision.”
He has served in the thankless job of admissions committee member. He is one of the busiest faculty members, teaching two classes totaling about 160 students, and also has taught many executive courses. He started a pioneering executive training program on Infrastructure in a Market Economy with colleague Tony Gomez Ibanez that has been taught in many countries.
Lee has led dozens of research projects and written studies on topics ranging from the dangers of asbestos (in 1989) to the nation’s decaying transportation infrastructure (September 2010). He is coprincipal investigator for the highimpact Energy Technology Innovation Project in the Belfer Center. And he produces many teaching case studies, which add to the Kennedy School’s global footprint.
Lee also volunteers for about a day a month to serve as chairman of the Massachusetts Stewardship Council, overseeing the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. He worries that the financial crisis will lead to state park closures.
Professor William Clark, the faculty chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Program, has worked and taught with Lee for 20 years.
“The key reason we are more than the sum of the parts is Henry Lee,” Clark said. “More than anyone I know, Henry has just worked ceaselessly not to build up his own little empire but to build the connections— among the faculty, from faculty to potential sources of support, from the work we do to the world of policy and practice, and to our students. He gets us working together.”
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
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