Leopold “Lee” Adler II was born April 18, 1923, the son of Sam Guckenheimer Adler and Elinor Grunsfeld Adler. He attended the Pape School in Savannah, followed by Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. In 1942, Lee enlisted in the United States Navy Air Corps. Lee’s father had been awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in World War I.
Following World War II, Lee enrolled at Brown University, before returning to Athens to complete his degree at the University of Georgia in 1950. Lee trained at Atlanta’s famed Rich’s Department Store before returning to his hometown to take his place with his father at Adler’s on Broughton Street before ultimately turning his career toward investment banking.
In September 1953, Lee married Emma Morel, a Savannah native with roots stretching to the founding of the Georgia colony. Emma was the daughter of John and Emma Walthour Morel.
Emma also attended Savannah’s Pape School, followed by the Westover School, an all-girls high school in Middlebury, Connecticut. After graduation she attended Bryn Mawr and earned a B.A. degree in French, Art History, and Architecture in 1952. She worked as a reporter for the Savannah News Press until her marriage to Lee in September 1953. They had two sons, Leopold III, and John Morel.
Lee’s mother Elinor had been one of seven women who banded together in 1955 to save the Isaiah Davenport House from demolition and by extension was a founding member of the Historic Savannah Foundation (HSF). Both Lee and Emma served HSF as Trustees, and in 1961 Lee was elected to the first of six terms he would serve as president of the Foundation.
Emma has been honored on multiple occasions for her contributions to preservation and tourism, including the Davenport Trophy for outstanding contributions in the field of historic preservation in 1967, the Certificate of Excellence in Heritage Education from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation in 1987, and the Distinguished Georgian Award from the Center for the Study of Georgia History at Augusta State University in 2002. In 2002, Governor Roy Barnes presented her with the Governor’s Award in the Humanities, and in 2003 she and Lee jointly received the John Macpherson Berrien Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Georgia Historical Society.
In addition to his work with HSF, Lee Adler served as Vice President of Robinson-Humphrey Company, Inc. Investment Bankers from 1958- 1981. He led the effort to create the Savannah Landmark Rehabilitation Project, which secured federal funding and brought media attention to historic preservation beneficial to poor and low income families. In 1982, the National Trust bestowed on Lee their highest honor, the Crowninshield Award.
In 1989, President Georgia H.W. Bush presented Lee Adler with the National Medal of Arts “for civic leadership in preserving for all time the beauty of Savannah.” Lee was the first preservationist to receive the honor.
Lee died on January 29, 2012, and is buried in Bonaventure Cemetery. In 2004, the Adler Family Foundation established the Mr. and Mrs. Leopold Adler II fund at the Georgia Historical Society, ensuring that their shared love of Georgia’s history will continue in perpetuity.