Lily Lee's parents, Charles Beresford Lee and Mary Elizabeth O’Toole, came from Dublin
but had emigrated to South Africa. She was born in Capetown and raised in Johannesburg.
Her father remarried after her mother's death; the stepmother was much disliked.
Lily’s early education was in a German school. Later she attended a business college,
where she learned secretarial skills and after completing her courses she was employed
by the publishers Maskew Miller in Pretoria. At one time she was secretary to Rudyard
Kipling while he was in South Africa. Lily studied music; she had a fine soprano
voice and sang in chorale groups.
Five years after she first met Thomas Harland they became engaged to be married.
Their friendship had been sustained through correspondence and even her engagement
ring arrived by post. She set off for the United States in 1913, stopping en route
for several weeks in Bournemouth England, to visit her Aunt Kate - after whom she
later named her second daughter. During this stay in Hampshire, Davis Cup tennis
was being played there between England and South Africa. A member of the South African
team begged Lily to terminate her journey to the United States and to marry him:
but this very attractive vivacious little lady kept her promise to Tom. On arrival
in New York her brother Fred Lee who lived in New Jersey met her. He saw her safely
off by train to Atlanta, where she and Tom were married on 19 July 1913. She had
two daughters Mary (1918) and Kathleen (1919)
Lily had many wonderful qualities. She was utterly charming and intuitive; she had
a great sense of humour, and was wonderfully thoughtful and kind. She was active
in their church, an also very much involved in the American Red Cross. Particularly
during the Second Great War she gave hundreds of hours as a volunteer in the camp
and hospital division. At all hours Lily would be at the dockside when troops boarded
the transports or when the wounded returned. Between 1939 and 1945 she welcomed many
British merchant seamen into her home.
Although Lily never returned to South Africa, her connection with her family there
was constant, via letters – the method of the times. She retained her distinctive
accent throughout her life. Her last four years were spent in Covina California at
the home of her daughter Mary and son-in-law Art Statham. She died on 26 December
1964 aged 76.