Myrtle Chun Lee, the Hilo girl who in 1973 became the first woman president of a major Hawaii corporation, Island Holidays Tours and Amfac Resorts Hawaii, passed away on January 30, 2012 at 3:00 A.M. Born on November 9, 1926, her mother was Catherine Chang Pang and her father was William Nim Yuen. She was 85.
A pioneer in Hawaii’s hospitality industry, she was named in 1977 as one of America’s top 100 corporate women by Business Week magazine. She was known as one of the few businesswomen of her era to achieve dramatic results in a marketplace with few women executives.
Her business acumen and strong work ethic developed early while working at the Ah Hee Poi Factory in Hilo owned by her grandmother. After attending the Pierce School of Business in Pennsylvania, she returned to Hawaii, determined to succeed in Honolulu’s promising post-World War II hospitality field.
With remarkable energy and savvy, she took the industry by storm, a quick study rising to become operations manager for Bob MacGregor’s Trade-Wind Tours.
She had a long association with entrepreneur Lyle Lowell Guslander, joining him and his wife, Grace Buscher, in 1958 to help streamline the couple’s newly acquired Coco Palms on Kauai, the first hotel in what would become a prosperous Island Holidays chain. Two years later, the group constructed its first new hotel, Hotel King Kamehameha in Kona.
Following its merger with Amfac in 1969, as vice president of Island Holidays, she oversaw the openings of new properties including the Keauhou Beach Hotel in Kona and the Kauai Beach Boy. In a joint venture with United Airlines, the Waikiki Beachcomber was built above the popular Liberty House department store (now Macy’s) on Kalakaua Avenue Patricia Offer describes in her book, “Imagination, Merchandising, and A Little Magic,” that Myrtle and the Guslanders were “three incredible people existing for years on a hand-to-mouth basis” who initially ran from investor to promoter to borrower, somehow weathering every storm and crisis to become icons of the Hawaii Visitor Industry.
In 1988, she and her husband, Freddie, along with Roy Yamaguchi, Mike McKenna and Vince and Judy Sykes, founded the highly acclaimed and successful restaurant company known as Roy’s Restaurants. Myrtle actively supported various charities and in 2001, was the co-recipient of the Woman of Distinction Award presented by the Girl Scout Council of Hawaii. She was an avid tennis player and golfer and had a passion for food and wine. Myrtle loved lifeand she adored her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Myrtle married Godfrey (Freddie) Lee on July 7, 1951 and retired in 1990 to enjoy life and her grandchildren. She is survived by her husband Freddie, her 3 children, Daryl (Darlene) Lee, Terry (Dannette) Lee and Lisa (Mike) Rabe, 11 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren, as well as her two brothers, Oliver Pang and Gregory Pang, and sister Tylene Dunbar.
Many who knew her were touched by her zest for life, drive, determination, and gentle spirit, even while affectionately known as the “Dragon Lady.” She will be missed.
Memorial services are scheduled on Friday, February 17, at Central Union Church Sanctuary. Visitation is at 8:30 a.m. with services to follow at 9:00 a.m. (Aloha attire). In lieu of flowers, the family requests potted plants for a memorial garden that will be planted in her memory.