RALEIGH, NC – The City of Raleigh lost one of its most ardent advocates and an eminent arts visionary with the death of Lee Hansley on January 30, 2019. Lee had been in North Carolina Heart and Vascular Hospital for more than three weeks and succumbed to heart failure at the age of 71.
Lee was born in Roanoke Rapids on January 11, 1948, to Lonnie and Kathleen Crumpler Hansley. He graduated from Roanoke Rapids High School in 1966. He never lost his appreciation for his historic hometown and his high school, which is housed in a beautiful Gothic building.
Lee studied journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1966 to 1969 and began his career as city editor of The Daily Herald in Roanoke Rapids from 1970-1973. He was editor-in-chief of the Northampton News in Jackson from 1973-1975 and, between 1975 and 1979, was editor-in-chief of newspapers in three communities: The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in Hertford County, Halifax County This Week, and The Suburbanite and The Weekender in Winston-Salem.
During that time, he managed to attend summer classes in studio art and art history at East Carolina University, a step that hinted at the passion that would occupy him in later years.
In 1980, Lee was hired as a curator of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) in Winston-Salem. He was manager of SECCA’s Art Advisory Service and was responsible for the art center’s external exhibitions and traveling shows.
Lee left SECCA in 1986 to move to Raleigh and become promotion director of WUNC FM, the National Public Radio affiliate at The University of North Carolina.
In 1991, Lee left WUNC with a plan he had nurtured most of his life. He began talking to leading artists in the Southeast and prowling about the city looking for the perfect space for an art gallery. In February 1993, he opened Lee Hansley Gallery in the Capital Club Building. As his reputation grew, Lee became an important participant in the national dialogue on the arts.
Lee Hansley Gallery moved to Glenwood South in 1999 and, in 2016, to Dock 1053 on Whitaker Mill Road. Over the past 25 years Lee has represented scores of the finest artists in the Southeast and has curated some of the region’s most memorable exhibitions.
Lee was instrumental in reorganizing the Performing Arts Center Task Force, which led to an expansion of the Memorial Auditorium site and created a major performing arts complex for the city. He chaired the Raleigh Outdoor Sculpture Expo, led in the establishment of a City Art Bank, published a guide to 20th century architecture in Raleigh, and convinced City Council to increase per capita funding for the arts.
Lee served on numerous boards and commissions, including the City of Raleigh Arts Commission, NC State University’s Gallery of Art and Design board of directors, the Raleigh Arts Commission Public Art Committee, NC State University Theater’s board of trustees, and Durham Art Guild’s board of directors.
He received the Raleigh Medal of Arts in 2005. In 2007, The News & Observer named him Tar Heel of the Week.
Lee was predeceased by his father and his younger sister, Mary Ruth Hansley. He is survived by his mother, who lives in Roanoke Rapids, and his sister, Lou H. Proctor and her husband Jim Proctor of New Bern.
A memorial service was held on February 17 at the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh.
Memorials may be sent to the Lee Hansley Gallery Scholarship Fund at Roanoke Rapids High School, 800 Hamilton Street, Roanoke Rapids, NC 27870.