Football alum thought dead in twin towers

In his playing days, Richard Y. Lee ’91 stood 6 feet 4 inches tall, tilting the scales at 265 pounds. The broad-shouldered defensive tackle from Hawaii was intense on the field and intensive in his studies of Russian politics. He cooled off by playing gigs at local bars in his popular student rock band.

And like so many in the tight, close-knit world of Ivy League sports teams, he took a job in finance, working for Cantor Fitzgerald, the specialized bond-trading firm whose offices spanned four floors near the very top of 1 World Trade Center.

And like hundreds of Cantor Fitzgerald employees, he is among the more than 5,400 missing in the Trade Center’s rubble — the more than 5,400 for whom New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Tuesday there is virtually no hope.

Yale’s athlete alumni, who lived nearly as family during their time on the field and often shared their hard-won camaraderie long after leaving New Haven, are taking stock of their own, calling and e-mailing the hundreds of former teammates who may have been in the Trade Center or the Pentagon.

Donald Scharf, a volunteer assistant to the director of athletics, has contacted or heard from about 150, he said at a press conference Tuesday.

So far, Lee is the only one missing.

He is the sixth Yale alumnus reported missing or dead after terrorists slammed hijacked planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center’s twin towers.

The defensive tackle from Honolulu was gigantic, intense, cynical, funny and multi-talented, his friends recalled Tuesday.

“He’s the kind of kid you would’ve liked to have had as your son,” said Dave Kelley, a former assistant football coach who worked closely with Lee. “I don’t say this just in retrospect.”

Lee lived with his wife Karen Engelke Lee ’90 in New York with their son Zachary. Karen Lee could not be reached Tuesday.

Rich Lee’s is a story of trying to do it all, which he quite often did, friends said.

He shined in his sophomore and junior football seasons on the defensive line. And it seemed to many of Lee’s friends that the Berkeley College student could do anything. Lee was an intensive political science major who specialized in Russian politics. He spoke Russian, founded and ran a popular bagel shop in the Berkeley basement, played the bass and sang in the student rock band Skunkhead, and found time to court Karen Engelke, whom he later married.

“Oh man, oh man. Rich was very smart, very intense,” said Lee’s teammate Terry Cuneo ’91, who was Skunkhead’s guitarist. “Sometimes I marveled at how he got any work done.”

But Lee couldn’t always do it all.

At the end of his sophomore year, Lee had to have surgery on one of his shoulders. He returned in shape junior year but reinjured his shoulder at the 1988 Harvard-Yale Game, Kelley said.

Lee sat out most of his senior season in the fall of 1989. He stayed on at Yale an extra semester to try to play ball after his 1990 classmates had graduated. But shortly into the 1990 season, Lee was injured once again.

Lee is pictured in the 1990 yearbook along with his Berkeley classmates and the woman he eventually married, Karen Engelke. In Lee’s yearbook comments, he wrote thanks “to everyone who knows what Skunkhead is all about,” to his parents and to Karen, who “reminded [him] that love is real.”

Friends and coaches said they are hopeful Lee will be found alive.

“At this point, anything can still happen,” said Kelley. “Miracles can happen.”

Richard Y. Lee '91
YDN
Richard Y. Lee '91

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