I am very sad to report the death of a GW law student and one of my past students, Mark Edwin Lee. Mark appears to have died on November 29th at his home in Washington, D.C. and the cause of death is not yet known.
To lose someone at such a young age is always a tragedy, but Mark was something truly special. He seemed to find the positive in any situation and any person. There are some people who can reduce stress and strife by just being themselves. Mark was one of those people. He was that rare combination of someone with a brilliant intellect and a warm and engaging personality. I saw Mark as the quiet type; a confident professional who would rise quickly in our profession. I not only thought the world of him but expected the world from him. His loss is truly our loss.
This is the second tragedy for the law school in the last semester. Our second-year law student Gregory Levine was found dead in his Jefferson House apartment last month.
Because I am on sabbatical and not working at the law school this term, I just found out the news this morning when one of our deans called my home. I was devastated. I immediately recalled to my colleague that Mark and I bonded on his first day in Torts as Chicago Bears fans. (When he came to my house with other classmates, he said that he felt like he was at home when he pulled up and saw my large Bears banner outside of the house and Bears garden gnome by the front door.) During the season, I excuse all students from homework and being called upon for the day after any win by the Monsters of the Midway. Mark and I would talk (and kvetch) about the latest game during breaks. He was fun to talk to both during and outside class. He had a great sense of humor and seemed to transcend the common pressures and neurosis of law school. He was a wealth of knowledge of everything from music to sports to news events. In an often one-dimensional profession, Mark was a complete package. A genuine human being who deeply valued friends and life.
Mark had been feeling poorly for days and was discovered by his father, Tom Lee. As a father, I can only imagine the pain of this loss for his mother and stepfather, Susan and Tom West, and his father and stepmother, Tom and Mary Lee, as well has the rest of his family, including his stepsisters Sherri Spellar and Cathy Snowden.
Every Sunday night, Mark would speak with his father at 7 p.m. They had last spoken on Saturday. When he did not call, Tom and Mark’s step mother went to his home and discovered his body in bed. I spoke with Tom this morning and I can see where Mark got his strength. Tom is a retired police Captain with 25 years of service. Of course, his career took him to many such scenes but to have to discover his son is any father’s nightmare. However, Mark appeared to have passed away quietly in his sleep, which is some comfort. He had been complaining about flu symptoms for days and was staying home after complaining about soreness and other seemingly routine ailments.
Mark was in his final year at GW and looking at a promising career in business law when he died. He was just 35. He came to us as a proven scholar. He graduated with honors from Menchvillle High School where he was recognized by the National Merit Program and National Achievement Scholarship Program. He attended Virginia Polytechnic and State University and graduated in 2002 with a BS in Communications and a minor in Political Science. He quickly developed a love for the law. He first worked for the Nelson Mullins Law Firm and later went to work for the legal department of K2M Group Holdings, Inc. in Leesburg, Va. After being out of school for nine years, Mark decided to brave law school. He proceeded to blow away the LSAT with a score in the 94th percentile. He was accepted at GW, Georgetown, and other law schools and we were delighted to get him to accept our offer as GW. He continued to work his way through law school. That is no easy task but you could not tell from Mark who never seemed to have a down or dark moment. He not only excelled at law school but he was selected as the top employee at K2M.
Someone like Mark cannot be captured however by his resume. Indeed, Mark was the last person to even mention his accomplishments. He was more interested in his relationships and the world around him. He was a brilliant student who lived life brilliantly. He radiated a sense of confidence and excitement. My favorite story that Tom told me this morning was how, at 34, Tom learned that Mark had bought a skateboard. It turns out that after work Mark found an apartment building on his way home where he would skateboard. That captures Mark perfectly. I can picture him in a shirt and tie doing some railslide with the same joy that he seemed to get out of every aspect of life whether it was a basketball game or coffee klatch with friends.
It is incredibly sad to lose a student who had so very much to offer this world. We try to celebrate his life but there remains a profound sense of loss and waste in such a death. Ironically, the guy who would help the most at a time like this is Mark Lee. It is not surprising that his friends and colleagues all seem to describe the same defining characteristic of Mark: his smile. He was always smiling and offering a pun or a funny aside. He was, in a word, disarming. Even in the high pressured legal world, Mark put people at ease. You knew that he did not want anything from you beyond your company; your friendship.
As academics, we are allowed to take some of the pride felt by parents in the success and maturation of students like Mark. We get to see these men and women at the critical moment when they emerge as true leaders and professionals. It is the moment of potential realized after years of education. It never fails to rejuvenate and inspire. They have limitless potential and there is a sense of great anticipation. That is how I felt about Mark. Great anticipation. He could offer the world something unique. He could offer them Mark Lee and, for those of us who knew him, that was going to be something to watch.
There is little value in dwelling on what could have been. For those of us who mourn the loss of Mark, we must satisfy ourselves with what was; with the man we knew. We all benefited from our friendship with Mark and for that we should be eternally grateful to not just Mark but his parents and family. They helped shape a wonderful man who enriched the lives of everyone he touched. His loss is a tragedy but his life was a triumph.
Visiting hours will be held Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Peninsula Funeral Home in Newport News. A funeral service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Grace Methodist Church in Newport News, with a burial to follow.