Dr. Sammy Lee, a noted Southland physician and the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States, has died of complications from pneumonia, his son, Sammy Lee II, told City News Service Saturday.
The elder Lee died peacefully Friday at a Newport Beach hospital, his son said. He was 96.
Born in Fresno to Korean immigrant parents, Lee won Olympic gold for the United States in London in 1948 and successfully defended his 10-meter diving Olympic championship in Helsinki in 1952. He later coached some of the United States’ best Olympic divers, including Greg Louganis, Bob Webster and Pat McCormick.
He graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School, attained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Occidental College and then a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Southern California.
Lee served in the U.S. Army for 13 years, retiring with the rank of major.
Over the years he received various appointments from Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan, including the President’s Commissioner on White House Fellows, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and Presidential Representative to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, 1972 Munich Olympics and 1988 Seoul Olympics.
The ear, nose and throat specialist has a square named after him at the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Normandie Avenue in Koreatown. A diving tower at USC and the Dr. Sammy Lee Medical and Health Science Magnet Elementary School on Council Street in Los Angeles also bear his name.
He is survived by his beloved wife of 66 years, Rosalind; his daughter Pamela, her husband Wesley Ayers and grandson Samuel Ayers; and his son Sammy and wife Gina, grandson Alexander, and granddaughter Samantha.
“Through his multitude of achievements and awards, (my father) treasured his family most,” Sammy Lee II said Saturday. “He often stated, `The medals fade but my wife, daughter, son and grandchildren become more golden and precious during the last 2-minute drill of my game.”‘
Funeral arrangements were pending.
—City News Service