Henry Lee Steps Down After Preserving Public Parks for More Than 40 Years

As president of the Friends of the Public Garden for the past four decades, Lee said the organization is on stable ground and will go on to do bigger and better things for Boston's parks.

Henry Lee, who spent nearly 41 years dedicated to the preservation and improvement of the , , and , stepped down Wednesday night as the president of the Friends of the Public Garden.

The announcement came during the nonprofit organization’s 41st annual meeting held at the First Church on Marlborough Street. It was a night that veered between the past, present, and future. Members discussed current and upcoming projects to Boston’s public spaces, while paying tribute to Lee’s tenure as president, as he stepped down to become president emeritus.

Historian David McCullough compared him to Jimmy Stewart in “It’s A Wonderful Life” and wondered what the parks of Boston would look like without his efforts.

Lee’s love for the parks and admiration for the people who have helped the Friends of the Public Garden during the past four decades was transparent. He called the Common “the most extraordinary park in our country,” and remarked that if Benjamin Franklin took a stroll through the Common today it would still be recognizable to the Founding Father.

“The parks have undergone great improvements,” said Lee, commenting on the condition they were in 40 years ago. He shared praise for this achievement with the Parks Department.

In addition, Lee said the Friends of the Public Garden is on a firmer and stable basis to maintain their work, and believes they will go on to do bigger and better things to help the city parks.

Works in progress

“The biggest thing in the Common is the renovation of the Brewer Plaza Fountain,” said Liz Vizza, executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden.

Two-and-a-half acres of the Common has been fenced off to add new granite paving and trees, and a new irrigation system will also be installed to sustain the new plantings.

“The [Brewer] fountain head had not been working for over a decade,” Vizza said. “And there is a commitment to restore all the fountains in the city.”

The landscape surrounding the Brewer fountain also needs to be improved to entice more visitors to the area, she said. The plan is for it to be a place were people can come and relax, and sit down in new chairs and make it an active space.

“Thousands of people move through the park space and don’t linger and enjoy it.” Vizza added, “This is our oldest and one of the finest pieces of public art in the city.”

The Friends of the Public Garden is also focusing on cleaning all the statues on the Commonwealth Mall. Another major concern is preventing shadows from being cast upon the Common and Public Garden by high-rise buildings, and there’s currently a petition circulating to support legislation that would preserve sunlight by restricting the shadows of new developments. 

The focus returned to Lee at the end of the meeting.

“These parks belong to everyone,” he said. “They are the property of everybody in Boston and that is not a statement; that is the law. No park can survive unless people care about it.”


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