Servant leader

Native St. Louisan Lee Kling is thinking about his city’s needs now and in the future

By Channing Suhl

Matt Miller
Lee Kling and Victoria Fraser, MD

Throughout the St. Louis region, underserved and low-income patients cannot obtain quality health care. Many live in poverty without access to medical services, or even food. Dedicated community leader Lee Kling has seen firsthand how economic disparities create lifelong challenges for so many people.

In response to those challenges, Kling, a St. Louis native and president of The Kling Company, has committed a multimillion personal bequest to the Department of Medicine toward research, teaching and patient care, specifically to benefit the underserved.

While a board member on The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Kling learned that many gifts and grants are restricted for research or other specific purposes. He also heard from doctors about the myriad unmet societal needs. Important community programs often go unfunded and, as a result, must be sidelined. Kling felt compelled by family tradition and the example of others to help address those needs.

“It’s an obligation I have. Life’s been good to me, and I want to give back,”
Kling said. “I’m passionate about addressing health-care disparities in
the St. Louis community.”

The Department of Medicine was a natural choice for Kling, who has a trusted friendship with Victoria J. Fraser, MD, department chair and the Adolphus
Busch Professor of Medicine.

“Lee and his family members are incredibly charitable and caring,” Fraser said. “They have been fascinated by the breadth and depth of diseases addressed by internal medicine. This gift will accelerate and improve treatments for those who don’t have access to health care and modern research.”

Humanitarian legacy

Kling is the son of the late philanthropist and community leader S. Lee Kling and Rosie Kling. His parents set a strong model for and a high value on supporting the community. S. Lee Kling was a civic, philanthropic and community leader. As board chairman of The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital, he helped fund the Goldfarb School of Nursing and the Kling Center for Proton Therapy.

Lee Kling, 55, wanted to contribute expressly to the programs Fraser highlighted that help the underserved and secure those programs for the future. While somewhat atypical for people in their 50s to make estate bequests, planned giving advisers say that today’s donors are trending younger.

This bequest is the latest in a series of significant gifts from his family foundation or from broader contribution efforts spearheaded by Kling. “I’ve been privileged to see tremendous generosity from others; I want to emulate that spirit,” Kling noted. Previously, he has donated expendable research funds to Fraser and Anthony Lubniewski, MD, in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and fellowships for the Department of Medicine.

“This gift will accelerate and improve treatments for those who don’t have access to health care and modern research.”
– Victoria J. Fraser, MD

Kling’s history of volunteerism includes serving on the St. Louis Lambert Airport Commission, as well as stints as a National Council Member for the School of Medicine, board president at Food Outreach, board member at Variety, the Children’s Charity of St. Louis, and trustee of the Wyman Center, which empowers teens from economically disadvantaged circumstances to lead successful lives and build strong communities, among many other volunteer roles.

“Like any city, St. Louis has challenges. Unlike some, St. Louis also has the strength, energy and human capital to address those challenges,” Kling said. “Our city has a rich culture and history combined with tremendous leadership
in science and business. In particular, people come from all over the world to access our outstanding medical experts.

“I believe in this city and I want to do what I can to ensure a healthy future for all.”

Published in the Autumn 2019 issue