You couldn’t have planned the life trajectory of Julia Klee ’80 even if you tried.
“Opportunities just presented themselves,” Julia recalls. “I never thought about making a fortune. I thought about making a contribution. As a refugee I thought, ‘Why am I alive when so many people died?’ That question drove me.”
Julia was just a toddler when her family left Lithuania toward the end of World War II as Soviet troops were returning. Her family fled to the West. After the war in Europe ended, her family was assigned to a displaced persons’ camp in the U.S. controlled sector of post-war Germany. They applied for entry to live in the United States when this became a possibility. In 1949, her family moved to the Chicago area. Julia graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a degree in chemistry.
But the West Coast beckoned, and Julia found herself in San Francisco in 1969. She volunteered for the Peace Corps in Kenya in the early 1970s. When she came back to California, she worked in environmental compliance for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
Julia decided to study law when she noticed how lawyers seemed to be present in the inner workings of many environmental issues at the district.
“I thought I could make more of an impact on environmental issues if I studied law,” Julia says. “I could combine my background in science with law. It just fit.”
That brought her to Berkeley Law. After Berkeley, Julia worked for a law firm in the Bay Area and Washington, D.C., in its environmental business division. At that time — in the early 1980s — it was one of the few law firms in the country that had such a practice.
Julia also worked for the Office of Environment, Health & Safety at UC Berkeley where she made connections with faculty members at Rausser College of Natural Resources (RCNR) and the Energy & Resources Group. Those connections would eventually influence her philanthropy.
Julia met husband Howard in D.C. before his job moved them to Beijing. After a short stint back in Chicago, the war refugee found herself working for the United Nations in Geneva, specifically for the United Nations Compensation Commission with a focus on environmental issues. The commission was created to deal with numerous claims following Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait. Julia and Howard would live in Switzerland for 22 years. They returned to live permanently in the United States in February 2022.
“I had to come back to the West Coast that I love so much,” Julia says from her home in Bend, Oregon. “We love the trees, hiking possibilities, and the clean air — except for the forest fires.”
Julia’s forward momentum continues: She has made a bequest commitment to create the Julia Epley Klee Fund, a 10-year endowment to support teaching and research in the areas of environmental law and international and comparative law. Julia has also committed to supporting the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment — known as CLEE, which coincidentally is pronounced just like Julia’s last name — as well as the school’s Human Rights Center. Additionally, she is including RCNR in her estate plans.
Julia says her contributions to the law school in part honor her dear friend Berkeley Law professor emeritus David Caron who passed away in 2018.
“I wish my resources were as great as the number of things I’d like to support,” Julia says. “I think about the departments of architecture and music and the Library. The university has so much strength across disciplines. But I’m showing support in areas that mean a lot to me since Berkeley has been such a tremendous influence on my life’s path.”