John H. Lee was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia, on July 15, 1929, the only child of the late Harry Letopoulos and Helen Kritselis Letopoulos. He was educated in area public schools and at West Virginia University in Morgantown. After college he enlisted in the Air Force and served in Korea. After his military service, he pursued a career as a professional actor in New York, studying with Lee Grant and Uta Hagen. His first professional role was in 1958, and his professional experience allowed him to meet and work with Myrna Loy, Sir Noel Coward and Montgomery Clift, among many others.
He returned to WVU and earned a Master’s degree and returned to Parkersburg to teach English and Drama, first at Hamilton Junior High School and then for seventeen years at Parkersburg High School, succeeding the legendary Grace-Marie Merrill. As the advisor for PHS's Troupe 264 of the International Thespian Society, he directed numerous plays that won many state, regional, national and international awards, including first place at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in 1969 and first place at the International High School Drama Conference in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1970.
Known for his compassion, teaching skills and joy in his students’ successes, John was introduced in 1973 at a meeting of the National Endowment for the Arts at the Kennedy Center as "the man who teaches the best high school drama group in the United States." A number of his students pursued successful careers in Theatre, including Marty Morris, David Rexroad and Barrett Carnahan.
John was also very active in the work of Actors' Guild of Parkersburg, Inc., having directed and acted in a number of plays. Memorable roles include John Adams in “1776” and his tour de force portrayal of Morrie in “Tuesdays with Morrie” in 2013, which earned him the designation of Best Actor in West Virginia competition, Best Actor in the regional competition at the ten-state Southeastern Theatre Conference in Lexington, Kentucky, and nomination for Best Actor at the national competition of the American Association of Community Theatres in Carmel, Indiana.
Governor Arch Moore confirmed what two generations of Parkersburg students and arts patrons already knew, by naming John a Distinguished West Virginia Citizen. John was an active member of the Ohio River Valley Chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters and a life member of the Actors' Guild of Parkersburg. He was a patron and enthusiastic supporter of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra at Parkersburg and the Parkersburg Art Center. When asked how he would like to be remembered, John recalled a statement said of him on more than one occasion that meant a lot to him and which he repeated with characteristic humility: "This man saved me from going the wrong way."
John passed away in January of 2016, surrounded by just a few of his thousands of friends.
The John Lee Memorial Fund will forever support art programs in the Foundation's service area with preference to needs from the West Virginia Symphony - Parkersburg, Parkersburg Art Center, and the Actors Guild of Parkersburg.