At 6 feet 4 inches and 265 pounds, Richard Lee ’91 was known as a gentle giant, remembered most for his generosity to his friends and devotion to his family.
“It has been a struggle without him, but I managed to emerge from the grief by focusing on what a wonderful gift the time we had together was, rather than on the pain of loss,” said Richard’s wife Karen Engelke Lee ’90. “I wouldn’t trade one minute of the time I shared with Rich for anything, even a life without sorrow, because in the end, the worst sorrow is to never have loved.”
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Like so many others, Lee went to work as usual on the morning of Sept. 11. His office at Cantor Fitzgerald, a bond-trading company where Lee often put in 14-hour days, was located on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
Lee met his wife at Yale, where, in addition to playing as defensive tackle for the football team, he was an active member of the campus community and pursued an intensive political science major with a concentration in Russian politics. He spoke Russian, played bass for the student band Skunkhead, drew a cartoon strip in the Yale Herald, and founded and ran the Berkeley Bagel Bar, which is located in the college’s basement to this day. He also took great pride in his home state of Hawaii, and invited several of his friends there for spring break in their senior year. Terrence Cuneo ’91, who attended, said Lee showed them his favorite beaches and the best places to surf.
The Lees were married in 1992 and had a son, Zachary, who was only 1 year old at the time of the 9/11 attack. Engelke Lee said that Zachary is very much like his father: enthusiastic, bright and kind, and shares Lee’s love of computers, Parmesan cheese and music, in addition to his quirky humor. Zachary will give a speech about his father next week at the memorial assembly his high school is having for 9/11.
“I don’t really remember my dad, but I know him through the stories my family tells me and the letters people wrote to me and my mother,” Zachary plans to say. “I know how he loved me because I’ve seen home videos and pictures of him playing with me and hear him speaking to me from the clock that chimes with his voice every hour, and from the hand-made wooden toy box and bookcase I still have.”
To commemorate Lee’s life and legacy, his wife and several friends created the Richard Lee Memorial website and established an endowed scholarship in his name at the Punahou School, the private preparatory school he attended from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“I realize the pain is cyclical: 10 years is so long ago and like yesterday at the same time,” Engelke Lee said. “I try to emulate him, to go the extra mile out of my way for someone else, to make that extra unexpected act of kindness and that helps me feel more connected to him. If the lessons I learned in my struggles can help someone in theirs, then it helps me find purpose.”