William States Lee Dies
July 10, 1996
Charlotte's business community was rocked by the news that Bill Lee had died, at age sixty-seven, while on a trip to New York. Lee's death was the beginning of the end of an era in civic leadership and vision that saw Charlotte and the region rise in prosperity and national prominence.
As chairman of Duke Power Company, Lee worked closely with Hugh McColl Jr., CEO of NationsBank (now Bank of America); Ed Crutchfield, CEO of First Union (now Wachovia); and Rolfe Neill, publisher of The Charlotte Observer. They were considered the "Big Four" or "The Group," and their support behind an idea almost always ensured success.
Lee's death was followed in 1997 by Neill's retirement. In March 2000, Crutchfield, stricken by cancer, stepped down from his post. McColl was the last to go, retiring in April 2001. While Crutchfield, McColl, and Neill are still alive, only McColl remains publicly active, although at a much lower level than before.
In the years since, many are saying that Charlotte has struggled with a lack of leadership, and they point to the decline in influence of The Group as a major factor.