Obituary

Lee’s Pink Spandex Shorts, Among Other Things

Dec 28 '09

This is my last post on Lee, at least for a while. I first met Lee in the fall of 2005, when I interviewed for a position at GW. It was Lee’s custom to take job candidates to breakfast. Ours was at the Red Cross cafeteria just down the street from campus. I might have had some grits.

I remember that we talked a bit about research (on campaigns, mostly). But I also remember the questions Lee asked about my life outside of academia. He wanted to know what I did with my free time. This led us to discuss running — which I do and Lee used to do before a back injury turned him into a cyclist — and also music. After I joined the faculty, I heard Lee talk about his meetings with other job candidates, and it was clear his purpose in asking these question: he wanted to hire not just smart people, but nice and interesting people. And one way to gauge these qualities is by talking about hobbies, hometowns, etc.

Lee’s efforts have born much fruit. Hiring nice and interesting people has made our departmental culture singularly functional and friendly. As Erik discussed, we have few meetings, and the ones we do have are remarkably free of conflict. As Eric alluded to, there is a regular brown-bag lunch — which Lee was instrumental in instituting — that any of us can attend, or not attend, at our leisure. We spend remarkably little time at lunch discussing political science, and far more time discussing politics, sports, kids, pets, travel, and lots and lots of frivolity and trivia. The consequence of this is that I actually have come to know and like my nice and interesting colleagues.

There is no formal award that Lee will win for his efforts in building this department. But he has made all of our lives significantly better. I am grateful that we can enjoy the fruits of his efforts, even now that he is gone.

Of course, some things are gone:

* No one else in our department paraded around in shocking pink bike jerseys and spandex shorts.

* I almost never saw him eat anything but cookies and soda. But he would routinely look at my larger but more healthy lunches — sandwich, little cut-up carrots, yogurt, etc. — and wonder how I kept my “boyish figure” given the quantity of food I was eating.

* And God forbid that you brought sushi to lunch. He wouldn’t let that slide without some choice words about your effete cosmopolitanism.

* He was acutely sensitive to the volume of people’s voices. He routinely outed the loudest members of our department. Maybe it was too quiet growing up on the South Dakota prairie.

* He would promise to blog about substantive stuff, but then couldn’t resist entertainment. His last post was no exception. His humor was a welcome antidote to my bloggerly dyspepsia.

* Who else will regale us with stories of professional athletes from the 1950s and 1960s?

* He could dish it out and take it. The dishing is evident from a couple bullet points above. I’ll tell one story about the taking. In 2006 or thereabouts, Lee experienced an episode of atrial fibrillation while on a bike ride and then spent several days in the hospital recovering and having a defibrillator implanted in his chest. On his first day at the lunch table, he sat down and, during the resulting pause in the conversation, a junior faculty member leaned toward Lee and shouted “BOO!” Everyone, Lee included, chuckled.

I’ll leave it at that. Lee wouldn’t have wanted all this fuss anyway. Soon we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming.

_Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,_
_et lux perpetua luceat eis._