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1943 Robert 2023

Robert Lee

November 13, 1943 — July 3, 2023

Dr. Robert Peder Lee, 79, of Choteau who practiced veterinary medicine for 54 consecutive years — 53 of those years in Teton County — died on July 3, 2023, from injuries sustained in a horseback riding accident on the Ear Mountain west of Choteau.

He is buried on a site he selected on land owned by his son overlooking the family home on Truchot Hill. A celebration of life will be held in the Choteau City Park at the new bandshell on July 30 at 5:30 p.m.

Dr. Lee was a constant in the field of veterinary medicine in Teton County from August 1970 until the day of his death — when he was texting with a client over the treatment of an injured horse.

He was a member of the Montana Veterinary Medicine Association and was appointed to the Montana Board of Veterinary Medicine, ultimately serving as its chairman for many years. He came to Choteau in August of 1970, accepting a position with Dr. Bill Patton at Patton’s Double Arrow Veterinary Clinic, built in 1965 just north of Choteau on U.S. Highway 89.

In January 1976, Bob purchased the veterinary clinic, setting up a lifetime practice, devoted to caring for horses, cattle and other livestock along with people’s beloved pets. He was an advocate for making sure all cats and dogs were vaccinated for rabies and offered special traveling clinics whenever rabies became a concern in the county.

He also supported procedures for working horses and cattle in a manner least stressful to the animals. He donated his care for injured or ill horses at high school rodeos during the years his four children competed across the state, and in his practice worked with individuals whose animals needed care they couldn’t pay for to make sure their animals did not suffer.

Bob’s abiding love for animals, particularly horses, cows and dogs, led him to a career as a veterinarian. As a vet, he communicated not only with his four-legged patients but also with the humans who owned them, and he excelled at both.

Bob was born on Nov. 13, 1943, in Great Falls, the second-oldest child of Robert O. and Eleanor (Loomis) Lee, who farmed on the Greenfield Bench. He attended Greenfield Elementary School and graduated from Fairfield High School in May of 1962 with honors. During high school, he played on the Eagles football team.

He attended Montana State University at Bozeman, earning his undergraduate degree in pre-veterinary medicine in three years, with honors. He then was accepted to the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman. While a student there, he competed in bull riding and was a member of Alpha Psi Veterinary scholastic honorary fraternity, a member of the Phi Zeta Veterinary scholastic honorary, and president of his senior class.

He graduated with highest honors in June of 1969 and accepted a one-year residency at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia as a clinician and instructor in large animal medicine and surgery.

In January of his senior year at WSU, he met Gail Schmitt, whose family ranched in the Columbia River basin in Washington. She was working for the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine as a research assistant. By that spring, they began planning their wedding in Washington after his residency was done.

But out in Philadelphia, Bob pined for Gail and wrote her love letters about his plans for their future life together. Gail shared one of those letters with her mom, and her mom told her to “get on an airplane and go marry that man.” She did, and they tied the knot on Aug. 6, 1969, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. For a half a century thereafter, Bob brought her coffee in bed at 5:30 a.m. They would have celebrated 54 years of marriage next month.

Dr. Lee thought after he graduated from WSU that he would take an equine care job in Australia, but Dr. Patton called and offered him the position in Choteau and he jumped at the chance to return to his beloved home state.

He and his growing family lived outside Choteau area until they purchased land and built a log cabin home (with trees he felled and peeled with his family) north of Choteau, where he and Gail were able to raise horses, dogs and other critters along with their son and three daughters.

Dr. Lee’s family says he wasn’t quite sure how to retire and would often say he planned to “die in the traces.”

Dr. Lee was Born Again in 1975 and had a deep and abiding Christian faith. He was active in the Choteau Baptist Church, where he served as a deacon and taught in the AWANA youth program.

During his children’s school years, he was active with 4-H and their high school rodeo and other sports and school endeavors as often as he could be given his demanding work schedule.

He loved raising, training and riding horses, particularly on family pack trips into the mountains. He passed that love on to all of his children. For 16 years, he and Gail traveled to Calgary, Alberta, every fall to watch international horse jumping competitions there. He and Gail raised draft horses and he trained them to pull wagons and carriages that they entered in parades throughout the region.

Two of the horses he loved most were Crockett, a buckskin gelding that he raised, and Classy, a horse he had bought for Gail but whom he loved, the horse he was riding on the last day of his life.

For 17 years, Bob and all his family took a week vacation to Lake Five by West Glacier. Bob’s family says it took several years to get him to wear shorts there, but he never quit wearing his boots.

He had many dogs through his long life, but the two who kept him company in recent years were a pair of border collies, Roper and Rider, who stayed by his side after the accident.

A quiet man, Bob enjoyed reading and journaled every day. He loved classical music, and he and Gail were season ticketholders at the Great Falls Symphony for decades.

Dr. Lee told his family that he loved being a veterinarian more every day, and he treasured his relationships with his clients. In some cases, he had been the family vet for three generations of clients.

One of his skills as a veterinarian, a parent and a community member was his ability to listen to people and really hear what they were saying. He rarely lost his temper and the more harried the situation the calmer he became.

He also had a dry sense of humor, a bent toward mischievousness, and enjoyed a good laugh. His children valued his ability to give them straightforward, logical, no-frills advice when they needed it most.

Bob is survived by his wife, Gail of the family home at Choteau; his son, Justin Lee of Choteau; his daughters, Jessica (Joe) Petersen of Three Forks, Mary (James) Morris of Choteau and Rebecca (John) Long of Choteau; his grandchildren, Eleanor, Augustus and Preston Lee of Choteau, Abigail and Samuel Petersen of Three Forks and Adelena, Myra and Matilda Long of Choteau; his siblings, Arlene (Gerald) Trebesch of Eagle, Idaho, Kenneth (Darlene) Lee of Fairfield, Bruce (Sally) Lee of Choteau, Marc (Linda) Lee of Olalla, Washington, and Rebecca (Wain) Allen of Coalville, Utah; and 14 beloved nieces and nephews.

Memorials are suggested to the Great Falls Rescue Mission, the Teton Adventist Christian School in Choteau, Bright Eyes Animal Shelter or angel.com/freedom.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Robert Lee, please visit our flower store.

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