Rich Lee Rememembered for Punahou Bulletin

Today (9/30/01) was Rich Lee’s funeral.


Under overcast skies, drizzle, and a cold fall wind, about a dozen of Rich’s Punahou classmates joined relatives, colleagues, college chums, friends, his mom and brothers Buddy (’88) and Alex (year?), his widow Karen, and his son Zachary to remember the man. Some of us live in New York City, while other traveled across the country to be there. Many others were there in spirit. It was a splash of cold reality to the disbelief we have felt as the events and aftermath of that horrific morning of September 11 has unfolded.


The service celebrated the many aspects of Rich’s life. His generosity, intelligence, courage, and compassion came through in the recollections of those whose lives he touched. Tay Sandoz represented us as the collective group who grew up with him. Tay gave a most eloquent and moving eulogy drawing upon his own experiences with Rich and those shared by our classmates—many given by email correspondence in the last two weeks. Excerpts from Tay’s remarks follow.


“All I can share is my experience, and the ways Rich has been an integral part of that experience throughout my life, practically from the time I first became aware of my existence in the world.  Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t Rich’s best friend.  It would just seem that way because of the supreme importance Rich seemed to place on all his interactions with other people.  He was always deeply interested in how people thought and what they were doing, even if he disagreed completely with them.


“One of my first memories involving Rich was in Mrs. Helbling’s second grade class one day after recess during which one of our classmates had teased him about the heavy boots he was wearing.  This hadn’t seemed like a good idea to me, given Rich’s already formidable stature, but instead of a reactive assault, I was surprised to see tears welling in Rich’s eyes as he tried to explain to his confused taunters how what they were saying could hurt someone’s feelings.


“He principally created our senior Variety Show, a masterpiece play of operatic folly, mixed with genuinely inspiring ideas, and covertly infused throughout with inside humor and double entendre aimed at his inner circle of friends.  It was a project which ultimately brought our entire class together in a profound, cooperative way, birthed hidden talents in many of us, and inspired some to career paths in the theater - Yet, Rich insisted on remaining anonymous as a contributor.


“He seemed to maintain a grounded commitment to what he wanted and what he cared about in life.  I remember admiring the certainty he felt when he first told me about his plans to marry Karen.  I didn’t really believe him when he casually announced one day that he was moving to New York to become a major player on Wall Street. Then there was the sense of peace that seemed to come over him about being a father to Zachary.  Rich seemed at his most self-fulfilled in these last several months.”


Jon Magnussan shared his considerable talents by writing a song for Rich and performing the Queen’s Prayer with several of Rich’s former Chorale singers. We later noted that Rich’s base voice was notably missing in this performance.


Kathy Cahill emailed this thought about Rich. Remember at the Punahou football games how we used to yell and chant  for Rich to run onto the field. Then we would laugh and erupt in a cheer if Rich came out.  He was such a pillar of strength.”


Kathy also shared this experience of Rich’s generosity. “I was in his home room senior year, and early in the fall semester he had just returned from an East Coast recruiting trip to Yale and Columbia. He had gone to the bookstores of these colleges and purchased college hats, sweatshirts, etc.  I was partial to a Yale sleeping shirt that he had in his loot and told him how cool it was.  Without missing a beat, he said, "Here, take it, it's yours."  I immediately said "Really? Are you sure?"  I was in semi-disbelief because, in my mind, this was such a generous gift. I was so thrilled and instantly amazed at his quick generosity for me, just another person in his homeroom.  Little did he know that I slept in that shirt my whole senior year until it was worn thin. Just another memory of what an incredible person he was, and how he probably was not aware of the incredible impact he had on those around him.” 


Jerelyn Watanabe emailed, “I don't remember many conversations with Rich but I recall him as a positive, supportive presence in my life.  I think he was the big brother I never had.  He always had a kind or funny or cynical word for me at just the right time.”


David Tanabe recalled, in an email, the lyrics from the graduation song, “Close to My Heart”, which Rich composed.


"Never thought I would change but I'm not the same --

 And all of the times we've shared only the memories remain, remain.

 And, Oh...

 and now time's slipping away, like water through an open hand--

 Of all the things I've learned,

 there is one true thing I understand.


 You are still in my heart.

 Moments that I shall remember forever.

 Close to my heart.

 Savor the love we shared together.


 Never thought this day would come, but there's no turning back --

 And suddenly I'm all alone and your strength is what I lack, turn back.

 We're going our separate ways.  It feels just like we're worlds apart.

 But now you can't say it's over,

 All this means is a brand new start.


 You are still in my heart.

 Promise we'll never fall out of touch.

 Close to my heart.

 It’s your friendship and love I need so much.


 You are still in my heart.

 Moments that I shall remember forever.

 Close to my heart.

 Savor the love we shared together."


The man who Rich was, many of us saw in an email he sent just after the death of his father in 1999.  In Rich’s words, “I always figured that it's a miracle that anyone is alive, and has consciousness, and freewill; just the idea of life is incredible.  I never forgot that - I always tell people that a wasted day is a crime against nature, because you never get that day back.  You can always have more accomplishments, or more money, or more notoriety, or whatever - but you can never get more time.  You get what you get.  And I'm glad that my dad had his time, and that I got to share that with him.


I don't know what the point is, I never have.  I don't know if there's a bigger picture.  I hope my dad is at peace, and I'm glad that I got the chance to tell him how much I loved him and how much he meant to me while I had the chance. 


I know now that wishing you had more time is a wasted wish, it misses the point.  "More time" is right now, and it's all there is.”


Mrs. Ane’s kindergarten class picture has Rich, the biggest kid in the class, filling the back row. The ten-year reunion class photo has Rich in a similar back row position. For many, that “back row stability” was something that Rich provided as a friend, teammate, and classmate. From now on, our class will have a very noticeable missing part, a conspicuous void that Richard Y.C. Lee filled.


Rest in peace Rich Lee.