A Birmingham Business Legend Remembered
James C. Lee Jr.
James (Jimmy) C. Lee Jr., known for leading the Buffalo Rock Company to become one of the soda industry’s top competitors in the South, has been greatly missed since his passing in February 2009. Born in Birmingham in 1920, he made a lasting impact on the local business community.
Lee attended Birmingham-Southern College and Auburn University. After U.S. Air Force service, he came back to Buffalo Rock, which was started by his grandfather Sidney W. Lee. In 1951, after his father, James C. Lee Sr., passed away, Lee Jr. took over as president of the company. He later successfully bought into the Pepsi, Dr Pepper, and 7UP franchises. In 1966, Lee built the most up-to-date bottling plant in the United States on Oxmoor Road in Birmingham. Buffalo Rock became the largest single-family-owned, privately held Pepsi-Cola operation in the country—a status it still retains today.
Lee received the inaugural Birmingham Service Award in 1983 and was inducted into the prestigious Alabama Academy of Honor in 1987. The same year he joined the Beverage Industry Hall of Fame, and in 1999 he was inducted into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame.
Lee served on UAB’s Presidential Advisory Board for many years and was the second chair of the President’s Council. He supported the Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center through sponsorships and the annual gala, as well as the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center gala and UAB Athletics. The Lee family also established the James Coleman Lee Sr. Endowed Scholarship in Nursing, and the James C. and Elizabeth T. Lee Chair in Biochemistry is named for the Lee family as well.
“Jimmy Lee meant so much to UAB and to Birmingham,” says Shirley Salloway Kahn, Ph.D., vice president for development, alumni, and external relations. “He was an advocate for whatever he believed in, and he believed in UAB and its importance to our city, state, and nation. He was a brilliant and passionate leader who was pivotal in the growth and development of UAB.”
Maintaining the Momentum / Summer/Fall 2009