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Hillary Clinton praises friend who committed suicide at 78

By Sarah May
|
February 28, 2023

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among the high-profile mourners Monday who paid tribute to billionaire financier Thomas H. Lee, who died last week in an apparent suicide at the age of 78, as the New York Post reports.

The former first lady joined friends and family for a memorial service at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall during which she praised the man with whom she and her husband shared decades of friendship.

“Constant presence”

Eulogizing the man many knew as the “envy of Wall Street,” Mrs. Clinton described Lee as a “constant presence” in her life with whom she and former President Bill Clinton shared “births and weddings and anniversaries, state dinners at the White House, lively parties from New York City to Martha's Vineyard to the Hamptons during good times and tough ones.”

Touching on Lee's evident zest for life and all it had to offer, Clinton added, “He would tell you about an interesting person he just met and needed to introduce you to. He'd show you the latest book he was reading, sometimes pressing it into your hands. He would share his latest joke – sometimes not always cleaned up for company.”

“And he would encourage you to eat, endlessly eat. Considerate, caring, generous and unpretentious,” Clinton reminisced while describing her friend, later noting, “Bill told me yesterday he never had an uninteresting conversation with Tom Lee.”

Doing her best to dwell not on the sad circumstances of his passing, Clinton added, “We're here expressing out gratitude for years as friends, as colleagues and certainly as family members for his long, successful life.”

Death shocks friends, family

The unexpected death of Lee unfolded Thursday when, as the Post reported separately, police responded to an emergency call placed from 767 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, where the renowned financier's sixth-floor offices were located.

Lee was soon pronounced dead by EMTs who arrived on the scene, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound said to have been to blame.

Though an official cause of death will need to be determined by the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, it was reportedly apparent that he had indeed committed suicide, an act that seems to have taken his friends and family by surprise.

In the immediate aftermath of Lee's death, a spokesperson issued a statement saying, “The family is extremely saddened by Tom's death. While the world knew him as one of the pioneers in the private equity business and a successful businessman, we knew him as a devoted husband, father, grandfather, sibling, friend, and philanthropist who always puts others' needs before his own.”

Prolific professional, charitable legacies

As the Daily Mail noted, Lee made a name for himself in the financial world through a series of successful acquisitions of mid-sized companies which he restored to fiscal health before selling them again at massive profits.

According to CNBC, over the course of his career, Lee reportedly invested more than $15 billion spread across a large number of strategic corporate transactions, including the purchase and eventual sale of Snapple and Warner Music, among others.

Lee was also celebrated for his generous philanthropy, donating large sums – and volunteer time – to organizations that included the Lincoln Center, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Brandeis University, and Harvard University.

Back in 1996, Lee made a contribution of $22 million to Harvard, which, at the time, was among the largest-ever donations made by a living alumnus of the institution, further cementing his reputation as a major player in the world of charitable giving.

Unanswered questions

It was clear from remarks delivered by some of the mourners that the reason for Lee's suicide largely remains a mystery.

Jon Lee, the financier's brother, told the assembled crowd, according to the Mail, “As we all know, Tom left us too early, and we will never have an answer.”

“There's a lot about each other we don't know. We want everybody to think everything is okay all the time,” Jon Lee added. “We owe it to Tom, and we owe it to ourselves to talk to each other and not to hide behind walls.”

Lee's widow, Ann Tenenbaum asked the late financier's brother-in-law to convey another poignant message to those who loved and admired her husband, namely, “Let us all remember the amazing years of Tom's life and not let all that be obscured by one bad moment at the end.”