Obituary for William “Bill” Lee

Well hello now family, friends and other interested parties, if you’re reading this it means I have finally passed away after “a long struggle with cancer.”  Since we can only have virtual funerals these days – which diminish the connection you can feel to the deceased – it seems like a good excuse for me to write my own self-obituary.  (and if I’ve managed to outlive the Corona quarantines, why waste all this effort?)  

I am survived by Susan, my wife of 39 years and the most wonderful woman in the whole world.  She put up with me for all those years, and for the last four she has now nursed me while I went through all the cancer treatments known to man.   At those moments when my cancer has been particularly taxing on her, she often said “this is what I signed up for.”   Honey, nobody signs up for the terrific care you provided to me.  Nobody.  Thank you so much.  

I am also survived by my son Aaron and his wife, Katie, who live in Illinois, and my younger son Isaac who lives in Las Colinas.  All three are living embodiments of the Boy Scout Code: always helping people; always trying to make the world a better place; always helping little old ladies across the street; or simply asking “what can I do to help?” Each is truly a mensch.  I could not be prouder.  I am also survived by my wife’s sister, Kathy Peterson, and her son Christopher. Kathy has been unbelievable supportive to Susan and vice versa whenever life throws a hand grenade at either of them.  I am also out-lived by my cousins Lori Ordiway and Danny Lichtenstein and their wonderful families.  As I grew old and sick, all their love meant very much.  What a great family!

I was born In Dallas. I graduated from Hillcrest High, Rice Univ and UT Austin Law School.  

In the 70’s, I worked for a national CPA firm named Peat, Marwick & Mitchell.  I enjoyed the work and I got along well with CPAs.  But, the problem with Peat was that my life was: “Get up, go to work, come home, go to bed.  Repeat.”  I wasn’t very good at saying “no” when work was offered to me.  At first, I was OK with that.  Then I met Susan on a blind date, fell in love almost instantly, and we were married soon after.  Now that I actually had a life, I wanted a little free time to experience it. A job listing appeared for a lawyer/CPA to join a small downtown Dallas law firm and I jumped at it.   

The name of the firm was Golden, Potts Boeckman & Wilson.  We did tax work and anything else our small business clients needed.  I was active with the Texas and Dallas CPA Societies, which provided many opportunities to spend time with great CPA friends.  Meantime, Susan and I had sweet little Aaron and Isaac, and we had more family time together than Peat had allowed.  All seemed well. 

As the 80’s neared to a close though, suddenly an old friend from Rice (Hello Ernie!) invited me to interview for a job in Pittsburgh, PA.  I would be the legal officer for a chemical company that had just been purchased by an investment bank in a heavily leveraged transaction.   In fact, it was financed by nearly 100% debt.  High risk/high reward!  The company had to navigate complicated environmental laws, securities laws, antitrust laws, ERISA, tax issues, union bargaining issues, etc.  Heck, the main plant was on a Superfund site.  Much excitement for the in-house lawyer (me)!  I signed up.

The next thing Susan and I knew, we lived in Pittsburgh and all of our laundry was black and gold.  It was like a foreign assignment to our twangy Texas minds, but we soon knew how to pronounce things like “Allegheny” and “Monongahela.”   It was a cut in pay– plus I incurred a debt payment as large as a mortgage in order to buy stock in our company.  We had to scrape by.  Going to McDonald’s was a treat.  Pizza night at Pizza Hut was a big deal for us.  Pittsburgh is a terrific place for families, and it was especially terrific for us.  No offense but Dallas can be a bit pretentious sometimes, and Pittsburgh was the opposite of that.  You can go practically anywhere in a sweatshirt.   We met lots of great friends.  One memorable time, it snowed 20 inches so our neighbors called everyone on the block together, collected party foods from our fridges, and walked over to the “blizzard party.”  Typical Pittsburgh.   

At that time at public schools, Pittsburgh teachers were paid over double the rate for Texas teachers.  Our sons’ education at their first-rate public schools introduced them to computers and set them on the road to being scholars and engineers.  Meanwhile, the Penguins won 2 Stanley Cups and the Steelers were the darlings of the town. We were hooked on Pittsburgh. 

My work was incredibly interesting and rewarding.  Inspired by Frank (our President) and the other officers, I felt that I was working for my own family and for 350 other families who were all depending on me (!) and the other officers to protect our investments and our jobs and keep us out of trouble 

The first “flip” of the company happened on schedule, but the new owners of the company made generous offers to the officers to stay.  We all stayed.  That happened again several years later.  Then after ten years in Pittsburgh, a Fortune 100 company took us over.  They made a nice offer for me to stay, but both Susan’s and my parents were both in bad condition and they needed us to be close-by.  We headed back to Big D.

We bought the house in Coppell where we still live.  We chose Coppell because of the schools and we were not disappointed.  Coppell schools were terrific for the boys.  Aaron and Isaac joined the “Business Professionals of America.”  With that group, they both won a state championship and went to nationals.  Isaac got his black belt in Tae-Kwon-Do.  They both became Eagle Scouts and they began maturing into the terrific men they are today. 

I rented executive office space and began working with small businesses.  Eventually, I fell in with a group called the Cowtown Angels.  Despite the rustic name, they are a really classy outfit.  The members are smart, dedicated to helping their client companies, and well-connected.  I’ve relished all my activities with them, and with the investors and entrepreneurs I met.  I regret deeply that my cancer cut short my activities with them.  To my great satisfaction, Isaac has joined the group and become an active member.

One of the greatest blessings of my life has been the friends who have filled it. In fact, having close family and friends to join me throughout my life “while walking along that trail towards the slowly-setting sun” may be what my life was all about. I have a group of friends that formed in law school and has stayed together all these (45!) years.  (Bob, Joe, Pat, Michael, Josiah, Kristin and Carla).  My salute to you all for the long relationships.  Through all the years, Bob has been the central glue that held us together.  

I also have played golf 2 or 3 times a week with the same faces for about 20 years.  (Richard, Frank and Abdallah).   A Jew, an Arab, a Swiss and a divorce lawyer.  Somehow, we got along famously.  I also played monthly with my Jewish golfer group (Glenn, Randy, Kevin and Trent) for I-don’t-know-how-many years, and went on annual five day trips for over 20 years with friends from my Pittsburgh days (Bernie, Brian and Gary).  These groups showed me how you can form such deep relationships from a once a month or a once a year group that they seem like family.  They are special people.    

A funny story is that Susan was not aware I was a golfer when I wooed her and she agreed to marry me.  At that time, I played no golf at all due to an injury I had suffered two decades before.  Then, a decade into our marriage, my doctor told me “we can fix that wrist now,” and my fanatical relationship with golf was re-launched.  In the words of that great Marine, Gomer Pyle: “Surprise, surprise.”  I’ve always tried to justify golf as having some kind of existential meaning and value (Isn’t life a game?), but the truth is that I love it and I’m addicted to playing.

Before I go (I guess I’m already gone, but you know what I mean, huh?), I want to give several shout-outs.  Rabbi Geoff has always been a steadfast support.  Connecting Judaism to a guy (me) who doesn’t believe in the supernatural was no problem for our brilliant Rabbi.  Our small congregation and the chavurah that Susan and I joined have likewise been a source of good companions.  Finally, a shout is in order for my heroic oncologist, Dr. Waddah Arafat, his tireless nurse Tina (from Rice U!) and the remainder of the world-class team at UT Southwestern.

In lieu of flowers please make donations if you are so inclined.  My favorite charity is the Dallas Morning News Charities since it helps out the needy in our community, or just give to your own favorite charity; or heck– times are rough– just help out those who need it any way you can.

OK.  That about covers it.