Clergyman. Lee was born on November 11, 1886, in York County, the son of David Ayers and Sarah Bennett. He was baptized (1898) and ordained (1910) in the Fort Mill Baptist Church. He graduated from Furman University in 1913 and married Bula Gentry that same year. The couple had one daughter and one son.
After serving several smaller pastorates in South Carolina, in 1922 Lee went to the First Baptist Church of New Orleans, where he stayed until 1925. He returned briefly to Charleston to serve the Citadel Square congregation, but in 1927 he went to Memphis, Tennessee, to become pastor of the Bellevue Baptist Church, and he remained there until he retired in 1960. Tennessee was at that time more fertile ground than South Carolina for the brand of fundamentalist Baptist theology for which Lee became famous. His fiery preaching style was well suited to the premillennialist message of his widely known sermon entitled “Payday Someday,” which he is said to have preached more than twelve hundred times. He produced numerous sermon collections and was an internationally recognized religious figure. He served three terms (1948–1951) as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. His inspirational message caused many to look for an immanent apocalypse, and that expectation fostered the growth of the fundamentalist movement within the Southern Baptist Convention. Thus, Lee’s ideas would eventually return home to South Carolina in the form of the fundamentalist movement that controlled the South Carolina Baptist Convention by the 1990s. Lee died in Memphis on July 20, 1978. His famous sermon, “Payday Someday,” is still widely distributed.
English, E. Schuyler. Robert G. Lee, a Chosen Vessel. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1949.