Dr. Mathew H.M. Lee

Posted On March 24th, 2011 -

DR. MATHEW H.M. LEE

Former Chairman and Medical Director, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Rusk Institute, NYU Langone Medical Center, Dies at 79

Dr. Mathew H.M. Lee, a pioneer in rehabilitation medicine, died of complications due to colon cancer on Friday, March 11, 2011 at his home in Pupukea, Hawaii. He was 79.

He was born in Honolulu, and grew up in Wahiawa in the pineapple district of Oahu. He was the second child of Shui Sang and Cecilia Lee. After attending Johns Hopkins University on a scholarship, Mathew earned his medical degree from the University of Maryland, where he was selected by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis for a summer fellowship in infectious diseases, and earned his master of public health and preventive medicine with honors from the university of California, Berkeley.

He served in the US Navy from 1957 to 1959 where he was the medical director for four destroyers. After his 2 years in the Navy he joined the Public Health Services and served 6 years, reaching the rank of commander.

He began his career in Rehabilitation Medicine in 1962 under the leadership of Dr. Howard A Rusk, the father of Rehabilitation Medicine. He became the first physician in the country to be trained in both preventive medicine and rehabilitation medicine. After his training in rehabilitation medicine he remained with the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation ultimately becoming the youngest and last full professor to be recruited by Dr. Rusk. Over the succeeding 46 years, he served numerous important roles for the Rusk Institute including department chair from 1989 to 2008 and was named The Howard A. Rusk Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, NYU Medical Center in 1997. Under his leadership, the Rusk Institute continually ranked among the top 10 Rehabilitation Hospitals in the country and the best in New York State by US News and World Report.

Dr. Lee was an extraordinary crusader in the field of Rehabilitation and Physical Medicine and was determined to carry on Dr. Rusk’s legacy of restoring the disabled to a productive lifestyle. He was most proud of establishing “Rusk Without Walls” to utilize rehabilitation medicine to promote world peace at a reception at the United Nations. He is revered around the world for his kindness and clinical brilliance and for creating new avenues for the medical use of acupuncture, arts medicine, music therapy and thermography in restoring patients to more productive and satisfying lives. Dr. Lee was a world-renowned expert in using the power of music to enhance quality of life while working to create more sustainable communities.

Dr. Lee taught, mentored and inspired generations of physicians, government decision-makers, health officials and university students with his international philosophy of rehabilitation medicine. He held three professorships at New York University-School of Medicine, College of Dentistry and Music & Music Education, and was also an Adjunct Professor of Biology at Adelphi University. He lectured and consulted in over 40 countries around the world. Dr. Lee authored and edited eight books and 115 scientific papers, and also received numerous awards, both national and international including the Distinguished Clinician Award from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the prestigious 2006 Honor Award and Gold Key from his alma mater, the University of Maryland Medical School for his outstanding contributions to medicine and distinguished service to humanity.

In 1973, Dr. Lee was one of the first Americans to visit China, spending six weeks studying the practice of acupuncture. He returned to China in 1982 with his mentor, Dr. Rusk, to help Beijing establish the first rehabilitation center in China-a full-circle achievement Dr. Lee took great pride in accomplishing.

Although his career kept him in New York City for almost 50 years he never lost his deep ties to his beloved North Shore of Oahu. Beyond his numerous accomplishments, he instilled a deep love of nature as well as his sense of fairness and generosity in his family. He always treated others as equals while creating in them the desire to achieve more. His legacy extends well beyond his scientific achievements, as he will be remembered for his extraordinary depth of humanism and indomitable courage.

He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Mary Lou; his children, Mathew Jr. of Kaneohe, Hawaii; Wende of Waialua, Hawaii; and Randall of New York City; his sisters, Aurora and Rachel; his brother, Albern; and two grandchildren.

Funeral services will take place on Monday, March 28, 2011, 9:00am at Hawaiian Memorial Park Cemetery. A celebration of life service will follow at 5pm at the St. Louis School. A memorial service will be held at a later date in New York City.


- Denotes U.S. Military Veteran