In Memoriam: Dr. Herbert K. Yee 1924 – 2021
University of the Pacific and the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry lost a champion on June 26, 2021 with the passing of former University Regent Herbert K. Yee ’48, a leader in the dental profession, a longtime community leader, lifelong supporter of Pacific and the School of Dentistry and a dental school classmate of the late Dr. Arthur A. Dugoni.
Although descended from California Gold Rush pioneers, Yee was born in Sing Tong Village in Toishan, Guangdong Province of China. At age six, he immigrated to the United States with his younger brother and mother to join their father, Henry Yee, a 1921 civil engineering graduate of the University of Michigan. Detained for one week on Angel Island, the reunited Yee family boarded a ferry, then a train on to Sacramento. In their new hometown, his father Henry ran his herbalist and chiropractor business at the location where Herbert would one day open his dental practice.
Yee met Inez, his wife, while attending Stanford University in the early 1940s. He entered the U.S. Army as a private at the Presidio in Monterey, California. After his 1948 graduation from the College of Physicians and Surgeons (now the Dugoni School of Dentistry), he opened his dental practice at 707½ J Street in Sacramento, California, where he practiced for 54 years. Patients included many notable elected leaders, including former Governors Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan.
Yee served as a Pacific Regent from 1972 to 2005, a nearly unprecedented length of service spanning from the “Pioneer or Perish” era of University President Robert Burns to the transformative presidency of Dr. Donald DeRosa. During this time, he was recognized by the Pacific Alumni Association with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1991.
“Dr. Yee’s more than 30 years of service on the university’s Board of Regents is emblematic of his passion for our alma mater,” said Norman Allen, current chair of the Board of Regents. “His support of Pacific and its students, particularly at the Dugoni School, has made our university greater and enriched the lives of countless students. We are indebted to him for his service.”
A lifelong activist and leader in civic and dental organizations, Yee held many positions; his service included 11 years on the dental school’s Alumni Association Board of Directors (1961 to 1972) and 12 years on the California State Board of Dental Examiners (1966 to 1978); he became president of both boards. Yee also served his local community as a board member of the Sacramento County American Cancer Society and the California State Railroad Museum, and as district governor of the Lions Club.
“Dr. Yee leaves a great legacy in his family, the positive changes made to the profession of dentistry and his lasting impact on the Dugoni School and University of the Pacific,” said Nader A. Nadershahi ’94, dean. “His generous sharing of time, talent and treasure will continue to touch the lives of dental students and so many others in the communities served by the people and organizations he supported.”
Yee funded major projects in China and in the United States. He and his wife established an eponymous philanthropic foundation as well as an endowed scholarship which funds a dozen dental students annually. He served on the Dugoni School Foundation Board of Directors for many years and led by example with his philanthropy.
While serving as a board member of the International College of Dentists (ICD), including a term as president, Yee was instrumental in getting the ICD into China and Vietnam following the Vietnam War. In 2019, the ICD, a worldwide dental honor organization, honored Yee with the Ottofy-Okumura Award for incredible leadership and service and humanitarian activities. This infrequently presented high honor had last been awarded in 1988. In 2020, Yee received the President’s Volunteer Service Award, a certificate and a gold medal indicating receipt of the highest level of this award given to individuals whose service has made an impact on communities throughout the nation and for inspiring others. In January 2021, at age 96 and in uniform, Yee received a Congressional Gold Medal for his service as a Chinese American in the U.S. Army during World War II. This award is Congress’s highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions and was first awarded to General George Washington in 1776.
Yee was preceded in death by his wife, Inez, and his son, Dr. Robert Yee, a 1972 alumnus of the Dugoni School of Dentistry. He is survived by two sons, nine grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Two of his grandchildren are also Dugoni School of Dentistry graduates: Drs. Thomas Yee ’96 and Candice Yee Chen ’02.