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Our Final Tribute to “Bebe” Lee - Kansas State’s visionary former Athletic Director

By Larry Weigel

I received a report this morning from Bebe Lee’s daughter Vicki that he died last night March 31st,  peacefully at a hospice facility in Southport, NC.  Vicki said she had spent two hours with him earlier in the evening and had “no notion that when she left him sleeping peacefully,- she would not see him alive again.”

An obituary will be sent to newspapers later this week.  I had the pleasure just a few weeks ago to do a historical feature about Bebe and his contributions to so many people including those associated with Kansas State athletics.

Bebe Lee

Here’s a summary recap of Bebe’s life.  He was born in Dallas Texas on December 3, 1916, the youngest of three boys. He graduated from Hollywood High school (CA)-and Lee, Bebe photoentered Stanford as freshmen in 1936 where he played on Stanford’s basketball team with the legendary Hank Luisetti.

Following graduation, Lee remained in Palo Alto and coached the Stanford freshmen basketball team for three years but was lured away to become the head basketball coach at Utah State.  He married Betty Baker in 1941-(also a Stanford graduate). He coached at Utah State for two years and then entered private business for a short while and then returned to coaching at Colorado State in Ft. Collins for one year before moving to Boulder to coach the Colorado buffaloes, and remained there six years.

Lee led his 1954-55 Colorado team to the Final Four and finished 19-6 on the season.  No other Colorado team has made it to the final four since then.  Lee left Colorado to become athletic director for Kansas State during the spring of 1956, and at age 39 was the youngest athletic director in the Big 7.

Lee changed the culture of Kansas State athletics by having the vision to foresee major changes would be needed for Kansas State to remain a competitive member of the Big 8 conference.

Bebe Lee

These changes included the acquiring of more land to build a new football stadium which eventually led to Bebe- New AD April 1956 M-Mercury Sportsexpanding the physical complex for the new baseball stadium, a new track, a new basketball coliseum and adjacent basketball practice facility and indoor workout facilities for football and baseball.  “Bebe was truly a great athletic director”, said C. Clyde Jones, former chairman of Kansas State’s Intercollegiate Athletic council from 1965 to 1975 and Vice President for University Development, who now has a very active life at age 90 while still living in Manhattan, Ks.  “You never had to worry about everything being above board with Bebe- his integrity was beyond question,” said Jones.

Lee, who had been athletic director for 12 years-set the stage and laid the groundwork for Kansas State’s future as a revenue contributing member of the Big 8 conference (now Big 12).  Then at age 52- resigned his position as director on May 1, 1968 and started his own company-Video Theaters Inc-backed by the Closed Circuit Corporation founder Richard Bailey Sr. who was also president of Hughes Sports Network of New York and Lee’s principal stockholder.  Ernie Barrett succeeded Lee as Kansas State’s athletic director.

Lee later became Vice President of Hughes Sports Network.  Lee left the Hughes network and worked for a short time as a consultant for the University of New Mexico’s athletic department in Albuquerque before marrying Jean Bell Merritt ( also a Stanford graduate) during the spring of 1980.  Lee divorced his first wife Betty in 1972.  Lee lived in Albuquerque with Jean for 26 years before moving to Houston to be near Jean’s daughter.  Jean died during June of 2009, and Lee moved to North Carolina shortly after where he could be close to his family.

Bebe Lee

Three of Lee’s former Final four Colorado team members have stayed in close touch with him all these years. “Bebe always conducted himself as a gentleman-and- I never heard him get carried away with cursing or using a four letter word or anything- he was always a gentleman-always,” said former two time basketball Olympian and All American Burdie Haldorson, who now lives in Colorado Springs.

Burdie Haldorson- pose with ball All American“He was very smart, personable and brought Colorado up in the sports world by helping us win the Big 7 conference (now Big 12) in a tie with Kansas my junior year and then we won it outright my senior year,” said former “Mr. Indiana Basketball and a member of Colorado’s final four team, Tom Harrold -who now lives in Boulder.  “Bebe was a wonderful person and gave me good advice when I got married while still a player and he helped get my wife Goldie a job while I played my three years of varsity ball,” said Charley Mock, another Indiana “hot shot” recruit who lives in Anderson Indiana.

The accolades for Lee still remain at Kansas Mock & Harrold- Midwest Regional March 1956State from those who worked for him in the athletic department.  “He was the kindest person person-and I don’t believe I ever saw Bebe visually upset over anything,” said Carol Adolph-Kansas State’s long time athletic ticket manager and former secretary to Lee when she first started her career with the athletic department.

Lee is survived by two daughters Vicki and Barbara and son Gary who predeceased Lee in a tragic auto accident in 1987.  Vicki lives with husband Karl Farris in Southport, NC, and Barbara lives in Wilmington, NC.  Lee has two grandchildren Stewart and Paul Farris, and five great- grand children.

You can send a note of condolence to:  Vicki Farris, 308 E. 8th St, Southport, NC 28461.

Kansas State would not be in the enviable position as a respected member of the Big 12 conference today, had it not been for the visionary athletic director-  H.B. “Bebe” Lee.  Thanks Bebe for a job well done, and may you rest in peace.

Bebe & Vicki

Bebe & Vicki Lee

(Vicki with her dad during a special moment on February 2, 2013)

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