Vernon Lee, UT alumnus crediting with marketing F-16 fighter jet, dies at 80

David Maly

UT alumnus and former Daily Texan staff member Vernon Lee, who was instrumental in the marketing of the F-16 fighter jet, died Monday at the age of 80 following a short illness and complications from surgery.

Lee worked for 43 years at General Dynamics in Fort Worth, which became Lockheed Martin, an engineering firm that worked with the U.S. military to create the F-16 fighter jet. The F-16 would become key in military forces around the world because production was relatively easy and low cost.

Lee was director of the F-16 programs for Israel and Greece, two of the biggest buyers of the F-16, which is still being produced. 

Lee’s daughter, Megan Endres, said her father was excellent in engineering and business, inspiring her to go into the business field herself. Endres is an associate professor of management at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

“A lot of people said he was their best negotiator,” Endres said.

Lee was born Aug. 11, 1932 in San Antonio and graduated from Brackenridge High School. He graduated from UT in 1957 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering. While at UT, Lee worked as a photographer for The Daily Texan and the Cactus Yearbook.

Lee was also a devout Longhorn football fan while at UT and remained one his entire life, creating a friendly rivalry with his wife Carol, a Texas Christian
University graduate.

Lee later went back to UT in the 1960s and received a doctorate degree in aerospace engineering.

During his career, Lee also worked as an engineer and dealt with space systems, aircraft performance and aerothermodynamics engineering. He was the vice president in charge of the FSX program in Japan, a program that helped Japan develop the F-2 fighter jet. He retired from Lockheed Martin in 1998.

Lee’s son, Vernon Lee Jr., said his father was talented in many ways.

“Everyone [me and my sister] talked to always said he was very smart and he was a great listener,” Vernon Lee Jr. said. “I think those are two of his key attributes and very gentle. So, it’s an interesting combination, to be able to get things done and still have people say that you are gentle and you listen well.” 

He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Carol Ann Lee; two sons, Vernon Lee Jr. and Kenneth Lee; a daughter, Megan Endres and six grandchildren.

Funeral and burial services for Vernon Lee were held over the weekend in Fort Worth.

Printed on Monday, November 26, 2012 as: UT alumnus remembered for work on F-16 fighter jet