Love and Squalor


This was a very tough weekend for me. It was the memorial service for Lee and Judy, and as wonderful it was to hear stories about the two of them, I don’t seem to feel any comfort from my deep sense of personal loss and grief. I find myself thinking of them as much as I did before, only the hurt became more acute as I sat there, listening to how wonderful they were, learning how much they had touched other people as well. It did change my perspective in some ways… I realize that as great a loss as this has been for me, it has been even more so for those who have known Lee and Judy for a long period of time. For me, it is like the loss of a potential life that I was going to have, and only got to briefly taste… for those that knew them for a long time it is the loss of a lifestyle.

The stories of Judy and Lee were fantastic. I could have listened to everyone’s testimonials over and over again. I was especially moved by the words about Judy. Her sister was there, and really gave amazing insights into Judy’s life. Judy was always very caring and motherly. This, it turns out, was in spite of her difficult upbringing. She was raised by a single mother and was the oldest of the three children. Her mother always expected Judy, the oldest, to take care of the kids, and to sacrifice every time. She rarely got to spend time with her mother, rarely got to hold hands with her mother, because, as the oldest, she had to sacrifice so the little ones could hold their mother’s hand. Her mother died at an early age, and Judy became the mother figure. Not once did she complain, not once did she cry about her suffering. She took on this burden with a grace and duty, and persevered to become the wonderful radiant woman that she was. I believe this experience, this suffering, turned her into one of the most compassionate people I have ever known, thinking of others and putting them before herself. And, as another friend so eloquently spoke, it could be downright annoying!. A friend of Judy’s came to town and they planned to go to dinner. She suggested a Thai place, which the out of town guests thought was a great idea. Then over and over, again and again, Judy would ask, “is that alright with you?” “if you want to go somewhere else, that’s OK?” “Are you sure that is what you want, because we can go somewhere else if you would rather go there.” The funny thing was, she was so concerned that her guests got what they wanted, that they were getting annoyed, and ultimately yelled “Judy, lets just go. WE’RE STARVING!” It reminded my of our playdate how she was constantly texting us to make sure we were OK with everything and that we knew our daughters were OK, then apologizing several times when they went to bed a little on the late side. I had to laugh, recognizing Judy precisely from his comments.

I think my favorite story about Lee and Judy, though, was about Esmé’s first steps. Lee and Judy and just arrived somewhere from out of town, and when they got back, realized they only had a few diapers left. So, late at night, when most places were closed, she asked Lee to go get more diapers. Lee obliged (I am sure rolling his eyes!), and off he went. In the meantime, Judy was spending time with Esmé, who was just starting to stand. Judy held out her hands, and encouraged her daughter to come, and Esmé took her first steps. Judy was beaming. Nearly crying with joy, said a few things about how wonderful it was, and then, with a sudden gasp of guilt, thought about Lee, who she had sent on the less glorious task of buying diapers. They made a pact not ever to tell Lee. When he came back they didn’t say a word, but encouraged Lee to try to get Esmé to walk. Lee encouraged his daughter, with some difficulty, to walk again. When she finally did, Lee exploded with joy, yelling “Mark the time! Mark the time!” and posted it all over Facebook, and emailed his friends the time of Esmé’s “first steps.” They kept this secret from him until the end. I imagine Lee, listening from heaven to the ceremony, hearing this and laughing out loud with a huge beaming smile.

“DUDE!” he would have said.

I had always thought Esmé was a beautiful name, and it was pointed out that this was from a JD Salinger story. It turns out to be from a short story, published first in the New Yorker in 1950. It is called:

“For Esmé- with love and squalor”

It is an eerily appropriate story for Esmé, and a wonderful read.

Judy and Lee were great friends, great people. The world is a less wonderful place. We will miss you. You have touched so many.


To Lee and Judy

There are times in life, when we cannot imagine how we will climb out of the depths of our sorrow. It is, unfortunately, one of those times now, as I attempt to get my bearings after learning of the passing of two of my friends, Lee Dirks and Judy Lew this tuesday in Peru.


Unlike many of the eulogies to Lee that I have read, I didn't know him through work. I never got to see the hard working, professional, dedicated, great public speaker that I have been reading about on other sites. I knew him, instead, through his children’s school. I had the luck to experience the fatherly personal side of Lee, Lee the dad.

I remember clearly when we first met. At first Lee and Judy were just another family at school to me, but they rapidly became so much more than that, and we grew very close. I got to observe Lee’s dedication, his patience as a father, one with endless love and a gentle hand with his daughters, both of whom loved him dearly. I knew him for his humor, his expressive face, his warmth and his embrace of the interests of others. I knew him for the games he played with the kids, especially having them climb up his legs and flip over, landing on their feet. And I knew him for his dedication and skill at the barbecue, mopping his secret family recipe barbecue sauce on piles of meat on the grill for hours all day, and always willing to share his knowledge and help others to become better themselves (despite his insistence that Mesquite is the right wood for EVERYTHING). He loved great literature, he loved good food, but most of all, he loved his two beautiful daughters, Esme and Lila.

Judy had a natural ease with me that I do not find in many others. From the beginning, there was a deep warmth coming from her, an openness, a trust, and an almost instant, completely genuine willingness to befriend me, with no hesitation. It is not always easy for me to make friends- I have some residual shyness left over from my childhood, but Judy disarmed this from the moment we met. She had an easing, disarming smile, that reflected her generous, warm, compassionate soul. We had wonderful conversations about personalities, how to raise our kids, about travel, camping, national parks, about our kids school, and talking about the friends we shared. I remember, when the kids had a sleepover there, how she was diligent about texting pictures to prove to us that our kids were alright and keep us updated on what they were doing, what time they got in bed, what they had for breakfast. She just wanted us to know that our kids were alright. We were so much looking forward to returning the favor and having Esme and Lila over for a sleepover at our house, so we parents could hang out again.

My heart goes out to Esme and Lila. I know what amazing parents they had, and no matter what happens, there can be no replacement. Lee and Judy adored them, and it showed. I picture the two as beautiful smiling, genuinely happy girls. They both have Judy's infectious smile. I remember them from the last time I was with them, insisting on having us upstairs in their restaurant for tea. Lee and I had to take turns so we could tend the fire. The joy they had when their mother came back from shopping. I know that they are going to have a hard time, but I hope that they will remain the happy girls that Lee and Judy raised.

I last saw Lee at my house, during a beer brewing session. We drank some beer and ate my inferior barbecue, and just hung out and relaxed. There just happened to be a dead rat in the basement, and we planned on naming the beer we were brewing “dead rat pale ale.” I think it will be called “Lee’s Dead Rat Pale Ale” now. Had I known it was the last time I would see him, I think our conversations might have been very different. I would have told him how much he and Judy meant to my wife and I, that knowing the two of them had enriched our lives, how much we aspired to be more like them, how I wish I could have emulated their parenting style, their family traditions. I would have made them understand that, even though we had been at Evergreen longer than they had, it was through them that we really opened up to the rest of the parents there. They were like that- the hub connecting the spokes of families at school, holding our relationships together and making them strong. But, alas, we do not often get to say the things we wish we could, for by the time we realize we should have told people, it is too late. If, by any chance there is an immortal soul and they can read what I am typing right now, I want them to know… I love them. I miss them. I cannot believe I am not going to get to see them anymore.


Judy and Lee. You cannot possibly know the effect you had on us on the short time we knew you. If there is any way I can help, I will do anything to help your daughters grow up to be happy, successful and proud of the parents that they had for far too short in their lives.

Goodbye. You will be greatly missed.