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Clarence Lee, designer of New Years stamps, dies

  • STAR-ADVERTISER / 2005
    Clarence Lee's 2005 Lunar New Year souvenir sheet of stamps were unveiled during the first day of issue ceremony at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom.
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After a half a century of creating hundreds of logos for Hawaii’s leading businesses, graphic artist Clarence Lee, 79, succumbed to Parkinson’s Disease and died Thursday under hospice care at Arcadia.

Lee may be best known for the 12-year Chinese Lunar Stamp series commissioned by the U.S. Postal Service. The series began in 1992 with the year of the  rooster. He also designed a U.S. stamp for the Beijing Olympics.

Lee founded Clarence Lee Design & Associates in 1966. He sold the company in 2005.

Lee’s design company developed symbols and packaging that Hawaii residents use and see every day, including logos for Northwest Airlines, Hawaiian Electric Industries, Waikele, Capital Investment, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Central Pacific Bank, the Polynesian Cultural Center, Hawaii Convention Center, Arcadia Retirement Residence, Victoria Ward Center and graphics and packaging for Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts, Royal Kona Coffee, Zippy’s and others.

Lee’s projects also included annual reports for Hawaii’s largest banks– First Hawaiian Bank and Bancorp Hawaii; Hawaiian Electric; Barnwell Industries; and the Aloha United Way. 

Lee grew up in McCully and Liliha and graduated from ‘Iolani School in 1953, according to his daughter Cathy Lee Chong.

He attended Pomona College and graduated from Yale University.

In a 2000 Star-Bulletin Lee said his father, a McCully butcher, got him started on his career. “It was that paper, those pink, waxy sheets, the butcher paper he’d bring home,” Lee recalled.

Lee said he would spend his evenings drawing fighter planes and tanks and explosions on the butcher paper.

His mother noticed, and enrolled him in a drawing class at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. 

“I think I was the only kid in McCully in an art class, so it was kind of embarrassing,” said Lee. “But I discovered that art was something I really enjoyed doing.”

As a pioneer in the Hawaii design industry, Lee has been honored as a “Living Treasure in Hawaii.” He has also received the prestigious “Koa Award” for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

He is survived by his wife Elsa Lee, daughter Cathy Lee Chong, son Douglas Lee, stepdaughter Emily Carl, sisters Helen Char and Rose Leong, brothers Kenneth Lee and Clifford Lee, grandchildren Claire Mosteller, Jackie Mosteller, Kala Chong, Kalei Chong and Logan Tom. 

Services will be held on Feb. 15 at Iolani School’s Alban’s Chapel. Visitation starts at 1 p.m.

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