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Tributes to Eric Clee, former president of the Bermuda Zoological Society

Royal Gazette - Jonathan Bell, Chief Obituary Writer

eric clee.jpg

A founding member and former president of the Bermuda Zoological Society who steered the finances of the Aquarium has died at 92.

An avid golfer, Eric Clee also served as president of Hamilton Rotary Club in the 1990s, as well as the Probus Club, which represents retired business professionals.

He led the BZS, the charity that raises funds for the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo, through an ambitious expansion of BAMZ through the 1980s and 90s.

Mr Clee started as the BZS treasurer in 1978 and earned the nickname “Purse Strings” for his meticulous accounting over 25 years.

An early achievement was the purchase of the audio “wands” that guided visitors to the Aquarium through its exhibits.

The equipment had previously been rented by BAMZ.

After Mr Clee arranged the purchase, it paid for itself within months.

The ambitious North Rock exhibit in 1996 proved a leap forward for the Aquarium while in 2000 BAMZ celebrated a major upgrade of its zoo.

Richard Winchell, a former curator at the Aquarium, recalled him as “excellent” treasurer who was “fully committed to the mission of education and conservation”.

Mr Winchell said: “During Eric’s tenure, dozens of new BZS sponsored exhibits were opened at the Aquarium; there were two successful capital campaign raising more than $15 million, and the education and volunteer programs began using volunteers and eventually paid professionals.

“The Aquarium shop and restaurant also started during his tenure.”

He joined volunteer education programmes with Judie, his wife.

Mr Winchell added: “In addition to managing the books, he managed the bar.

“I was fortunate to work with Eric for 20 years. He was a wonderful gentlemen, totally committed to the Bermuda Zoological Society and an outstanding volunteer – the best volunteer that BAMZ and BZS have ever had.”

Mr Clee remained director emeritus at the BZS after serving five years as president.

Retired Police Inspector Roger Sherratt said Mr Clee dedicated “much of his life to community service, both in England and here in Bermuda”.

“Eric gave 100 per cent to his every endeavour.”

Mr Clee hailed from the town of Kidderminster in Worcestershire.

Mr Sherratt said he served as a teenager in the Civil Defence Force during the Second World War and spent several years in the Royal Navy from 1946.

He organised and coordinated a relief effort, as chairman of the Wolverhampton Round Table, when the city of Skopje in what was then Yugoslavia, now North Macedonia, was devastated by an earthquake in 1963.

He served as president of his old school, King Charles I School.

Mr Clee arrived in Bermuda in 1974.

An environmentalist, he became a keen proponent for the preservation of the island’s open spaces.

He advised the Government as a member of the Parks and Beaches Committee, and was part of the Parks Commission since its creation in the 1980s. He became its chairman in 1990.

The commission played a key role in advising the Government on parks, pushing for the acquisition of new land and helping with the preservation of forts.

Mr Clee joined the local agency of the pharmaceutical giant Merck, Sharpe and Dohme in 1976.

He became president and managing director in 1976 and retired in 2001.

Mr Sherratt said he joined the Riddell’s Bay Golf Club upon his arrival in Bermuda, followed by the Bermuda Senior Golfers’ Society in 1995.

Mr Clee joined the BSGS committee in 2001 and became a driving force in its development, as captain and then president.

Mr Sherratt said he played golf into his 90s and “always relished showing his partners and opponents that he could still play competitive golf”.

He added: “Eric will be fondly remembered by all those who had the privilege of working, volunteering and playing with him.

“We offer our sincere condolences to his dear wife, Judie.”

⋅ Eric James Clee, a former president of the Bermuda Zoological Society, was born on December 1, 1928. He died this month at age 92.