Sir Walter Henry Lee was born on 27 April 1874 at Longford, Tasmania, son of Robert Lee, wheelwright, and his wife Margaret, née Flood. He was educated at Longford State School to primary level and went into his father’s business at Longford. On 17 August 1898 he married Margaret Matilda Barnes at Longford.
In 1928 when the Nationalists, led by (Sir) John McPhee, were returned to office Lee served as deputy premier and minister for lands and works, and in turn minister for agriculture and closer and soldier settlement. During 1933 Lee acted increasingly for McPhee whose health had begun to fail. It was a government marked by severe economic orthodoxy and caution. Public works were slashed, borrowing curtailed and salaries reduced. McPhee resigned and Lee became premier and treasurer on 15 March 1934 for the third time, only to lose office to Labor in the June election after a campaign in which Lee’s personality and competence became an issue. Lee continued to play an active role in parliament until he failed to win the endorsement of the new Liberal Party for the 1946 election when he lost his seat, having stood as an Independent Liberal.
Lee was a short, dapper man, forthright and vigorous in his views, thorough in administration with a sound knowledge of public finance. He was a master of parliamentary tactics, excelling in debate, particularly in his ability to ridicule opponents. A perpetual opponent of Labor, he was yet sufficiently liberal in his views for it to be claimed that he had been offered the post of agent-general in London by the Ogilvie Labor government of 1934.
Lee had taken up land at Quamby Bend about 1923 where he and two sons established Barunah, the dairy-farm where he lived until his death. A devout Methodist and lay preacher, Lee died on 1 June 1963 at Westbury and was buried in Longford cemetery
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