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Published: Tuesday, 2/10/2004

Ex-theater official known for tireless community work

Richard Gee, 71, a retired hotel manager and corporate recruiter who had recently been vice president of the Toledo Repertoire Theater and organized a local chapter of the American Liver Foundation, died Friday night in Heatherdowns Convalescent Center.

Mr. Gee died of complications from liver failure, said Lynn Brand, a longtime personal friend. In 1989, he had received a liver transplant after his own liver failed from cirrhosis caused by a tainted blood transfusion, she said.

Mrs. Brand and others said Mr. Gee was a consummate fund-raiser and volunteer organizer.

“He was such a phenomenal member of the community. He knew how to get people to support a cause,” she said.

Mike Calabrese, Rep president, said Mr. Gee, performing in a theater production during the mid-1990s, expressed a desire to become more involved in the organization. Mr. Gee was invited to join the Rep s board and, in that capacity, called upon his contacts throughout Toledo to promote the theater s activities.

In late 2001 Mr. Gee was elected vice president, and had to oversee a scaling back of the theater s business when it ran into financial problems stemming from a rapid expansion during the 1990s. Part of that job, Mr. Calabrese said, required Mr. Gee to find volunteers to do tasks that previously were assigned to paid staff.

“He was a go-to guy. He helped us raise money, he got people involved,” Mr. Calabrese said. “He was so into giving back to the community.”

Mr. Gee stepped down from that executive role last year as his health began to fail, but he remained active and was briefly on the Rep s payroll as its marketing director.

“Officially, he retired, but he kept coming to work,” said Gloria Moulopoulos, the theater s artistic director. “He was tireless in his efforts to help the Rep and any community affair.”

Born in Kansas, Ohio, in Seneca County, Mr. Gee graduated from Fostoria High School and, after four years in the Navy, completed a bachelor s degree program in hotel management at Michigan State University. In 1964, he returned to northwest Ohio to become manager of the Continental Inn in Toledo, having left an assistant s job at a hotel in Philadelphia.

Later, he entered corporate recruiting. In 1985, he left Aim Executive in Sylvania to become vice president of operations for Flowers & Associates in Maumee, a job that made him a recruiter trainer. He later worked for Green Thumbs, Inc., then was program director for Senior Centers, Inc.

Acting had been Mr. Gee s leisure-time passion long before he joined the Rep. Among his credits was the revival cast of the Rocky Horror Show in San Francisco, with which he later toured in Columbus, Chicago, and Philadelphia, Mrs. Brand said.

He contacted the liver foundation after his transplant surgery and, in 1990, founded its 12th chapter in Toledo.

“It s my way of paying back my donor,” he said in a 1993 interview, shortly after stepping down as chapter president. “That was something small that I could do to repay the gift of life that I received.”

Mr. Gee s civic involvement went well beyond the Rep and the liver foundation. During the 1980s he was president of the local March of Dimes chapter. He also was active in the Urban League and Men of Color, and was a president of the Northwest Ohio Placement Association, which helped disabled workers find appropriate jobs. In 1993, he became chairman of the board at Bethany House, a long-term shelter for domestic-violence victims.

He was a member of Downtown ToledoVision, later called Downtown Toledo, Inc., a coalition of business and community leaders that promotes downtown revival, and of Toledo Sister Cities International. In his later years, he lived in the LaSalle Apartments, then the Commodore Perry apartments after each was remodeled.

Mr. Gee was a member of St. Mark s Episcopal Church.

He is survived by a daughter, Heather Hire, and a sister, Joan Frisch.

Memorial arrangements are pending through the Strabler Funeral Home, Toledo. The family suggests tributes to the American Liver Foundation or a charity of the donor s choice.

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