Peter Lee: Refugee, Survivor, & Volunteer
Peter Lee has served as a perennial, enthusiastic volunteer at Hope On Wheels (HOW100) since the event’s inception in 2005. Event participants have witnessed Peter’s dedication to the event both pre-dawn (unloading supplies and coordinating table set-up at the event’s starting location) and late in the day (handing out snacks and water for riders at the wildly popular “Margarittaville” rest stop out on the Natchez Trace Parkway). What fuels Peter’s determination to be part of such an event that unites purpose, inspiration, and hope? Life-long challenges that have instilled in him how precious and fragile life is and to give back because of his own “second chances”.
Born in Canton, China, to a mother and a father who were both doctors of Western medicine, Peter and his family suffered the loss of his father to cancer when Peter was 3 years old. With the advent of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, Peter painfully remembers how his mother was incarcerated because she was an educator, how he visited her in jail, and how guards raided his house and took food from him and his brothers. Alienated, the Lee family was seemingly destroyed. After three attempts to flee the country by swimming, walking for miles, and ultimately crossing the ocean to Hong Kong, Peter applied for the “Right of Asylum” and a life in the United States. At the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong in 1981, top officials shook Peter’s hand and told him he was the last person accepted under the “Right of Asylum.”
With nothing but a will to survive and live freely, Peter worked his way up in America from bus boy, waiter, and chef, and ultimately landed a job in the computer field. Peter soon married and moved to Nashville. Peter’s joy in establishing his own computer/surveillance system company in 1992 was surpassed only by the birth of his son, Wayne, that same year.
Living the American dream, Peter was grateful for his second chance at a peaceful, productive life with his young family. Too soon, however, Peter faced yet another challenge – a diagnosis of lymphoma. During rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, Peter was inspired by the elegance of an elderly woman who sat next to him during treatment, relaxed and reading a magazine while receiving her chemotherapy. She advised him to stay strong and to face the challenge with dignity, which Peter did as he also battled diabetes and hepatitis following the impact of treatment.
Peter has rebounded from his illness. In an effort to make deliberate choices about exercise and to boost his immune system, he has chosen cycling and is an avid member of the Harpeth Bike Club. Recently embracing ultra distance cycling, Peter completed the Paris-Brest-Paris ride in 2007 which requires cycling 750 miles within 90 hours. Peter says, “I almost wanted to give up but I would think of cancer patients struggling for their lives; then I was able to complete the ride.” Peter now bikes an average of 100 – 200 miles every week.
Peter is a true survivor who has both lived the dream and, at the same time, had it threatened and nearly taken away from him. Our Foundation is grateful for his loyalty to volunteerism and for his inspiring story of perseverance.
Authors Henry Li and Elina Li have written Peter’s story in Light Up My Life, Once Again…Heart-Touching Story of Wing Lee, a Chinese-American Lives in Tennessee.
In memory of Peter Lee, who passed away since this story was published. We are honored to have shared in Peter's journey.