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Island owner Lee dies at 88

by Daily Inter Lake
| February 12, 2016 4:31 PM

Robert M. Lee, renowned automobile and antique arms collector, explorer and conservationist, has died at age 88 in Reno, Nevada.

Lee owned Cromwell Island on Flathead Lake, where he built a multimillion-dollar mansion, and also owned Windy Water Ranch in Ennis.

He made a name for himself internationally as a safari leader and outfitter. Described in one publication as “an avid explorer, writer and conservationist,” Lee was the founder of Hunting World, an outfitter specializing in leather goods and bags.

Lee originally began designing safari gear — he claimed to have led expeditions in 17 countries — but it morphed into a business selling Italian-designed luxury luggage, duffels and handbags. Hunting World later was bought by a Japanese company.

Lee’s family described him as a “Renaissance man” who presented a multi-faceted talent to the world.

They wrote in his obituary that he was a premier fly-tier and dedicated fly fisherman; successful builder/developer; excellent rifle shot; safari outfitter and professional hunter in Africa; brilliant designer and manufacturer of a multitude of outdoor equipment, fine luggage and clothing; a patron of the arts; a merchandiser par excellence and marketing whiz; an author of many books; an explorer and natural scientist with museum accreditation; and a classic car and antique gun collector.

Lee was born on Long Island, New York, and served in the U.S. Army before the Korean War.

He developed an entrepreneurial prowess at an early age. When he was 14 he designed a unique telescopic sighting tool called the Lee Mount and at age 17 designed and manufactured a range of several ultra-high-velocity rifle cartridges.

Lee was one of the first Americans to have a hunting concession in Africa, Lee Expeditions Ltd., and the first professional hunter to open Portuguese Angola to foreign hunters. He was a conservationist long before it became fashionable. While living in Angola in the early 1960s, he was instrumental in obtaining government protection for the lion, cheetah, black rhino and their habitats.

In 1988 he created an endowment for graduate studies in wildlife management at the University of Montana. He also created a scholarship for Native Americans to attend the College of Forestry and Conservation at UM.

A full obituary will be published in Sunday’s Daily Inter Lake. Online condolences may be shared at the website