Remembering Dr. Theodore R. Lee Jr.

Dr. TR Lee
Dr. TR Lee

The Dallas Examiner

When Dr. Theodore R. Lee Jr., publisher of The Dallas Post Tribune, died March 2 at the age of 86, he left behind the oldest and largest Black-owned newspaper in North Texas. To those who knew him, Lee also left behind a life defined by service to his community.

In an editorial by Dr. J. Ester Davis published in his publication, she penned that the doctor had what she described as two missions of service.

“He taught children on all levels the first half of his life and owned operated a renown Black newspaper the rest of his life. He never retired … nor used the word,” she wrote.

The paper began in Tyler when founder Bert Muse published The Tyler Tribune in 1947. The newspaper’s website states that the publication moved from East Texas to Dallas in 1950.

In 1962, Lee was among a new set of owners, along with attorney Fred Finch Jr., Lee J. Davis, J.H. Glenn, Dr. Judge Page, attorney C. W. Asberry, J. Graham and H.L. Logan. The new group of owners changed the name from the Star Post. It was eventually renamed The Dallas Post Tribune.

Lee and his wife Dorothy took over the publication as the publishers in 1995 after his long career as an educator.

“As a kid growing up in Dallas I threw The Dallas Post Tribune at the age of 5 with my little red wagon,” voiced Theodora Lee, the daughter of Lee and co-chair of the board of directors at the paper.

The younger Lee mentioned that, just as the paper has been an ever-present feature of her life, so too was her father’s desire to improve not only his family’s life but the lives of those within the local African American community.

“My father was born in Midway, Texas, the son of a tenant farmer,” Theodora said. “He left home as a teenager because he saw no future in tenant farming, so he moved in with his aunt in Dallas, worked as an orderly at Baylor hospital – the very place where he died – and saved money in order to go to college.”

Lee went to Jarvis Christian Collage where he met his future wife, Dorothy, and earned money by working in the school’s library.

Theodora stated that after her father graduated he served in the U.S. Army. He began teaching once he completed his military service.

In 1959, he taught at an evening school at Wiley College and Prairie View A&M, according to a previous report. He also taught in Dallas ISD schools and later became the principal at Albert Sidney Johnson Elementary School in South Dallas – the school’s first African American administrator.

Theodora stated her father eventually became deputy associate superintendent of schools for Dallas ISD and had also been the first African American dean at what is now the University of North Texas. He was also a cattle rancher at one point and raised racehorses.

“He was a man of many talents,” Theodora remarked.

Such diverse occupations granted Lee varied experiences and perspectives that helped serve him in his role as a newsman.

“My parents had saved money… so that my mother did not have to work when I was born,” Theodora explained. “Well, my mother did choose to work, and therefore they had money to invest in The Dallas Post Tribune.”

Attorney Fred Finch, who later founded The Dallas Examiner, was the attorney for Lee’s publication at the time.

“And they paid him in shares,” Lee’s daughter said.

She further described how her father took majority shareholder control of The Post by purchasing outstanding stock in the paper over time from the families of the other shareholders. Finch however kept his shares, which were passed on to his daughter, Mollie F. Belt, after his death.

Much of the success that the paper garnered, as well as that of the Lee family themselves, grew from the Lee’s commitment to education.

“My father is one of these people who wants to make a difference in people’s lives,” Theodora confirmed. “You have to understand, he saw what life was like without an education and he knew that education was the differentiator between having an existence and living. With an education you can shape and design your life. Without an education you are subject to what other people will have for you.”

To that end The Post was an extension of the doctor’s dedication to education. His daughter acknowledged her father’s strong feelings about the role of the newspaper within the Metroplex since there were so few outlets for news about, and relating to, the city’s Black residents during the publication’s early years.

“Back in the 50s and 60s the Post Tribune was the first,” Theodora said. “Over the years they had professional editors and all, but – just like my father had a passion to educate the youth – he felt that actually publishing a paper and giving the community a platform in which to share their stories that would not be shared in the mainstream Dallas Morning News paper, was critical.”

After moments of reflection, she revealed that the paper would continue to be published beyond Lee’s death and took a moment to contemplate his legacy.

“My father wrote and lived by the premise: love of God, love of country, love of self, love of humanity, and the will to serve,” she recalled, “And if everyone would live by that premise we would have a better world, kids would get an education and stay in school, and become productive members of society. And that is what I think my father’s legacy is.

“He really was a man who really lived by making a difference. He was a community servant. He was a man who was very principled and he was a man who really wanted to lift as he climbed.”

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