His reputation preceded him. I had been told, “you should get to know Lee. He’s very connected but don’t piss him off!” The advice was from a trusted friend and colleague. I took the words to heart. Then, we both annoyed him (I would later discover Lee doesn’t really get pissed off – annoyed is about as far as it goes). I called him to apologize for what was an honest oversight and he was very gracious.
We didn’t actually meet in person until August of 2017 at a work dinner with about 12 people. I was the host and trying to talk
with everyone. We spoke for about 15 minutes. My first observations upon meeting him were:
He’s so much taller than I thought he would be.
He’s not the least bit intimidating. Quite the contrary. Soft spoken. Quiet in a group but very personable one on one.
He’s very generous. We immediately realized we both had sons and his oldest is a rocket scientist. Mine is an aviation enthusiast. As soon as I mentioned that, he offered to connect me to his son who works at NASA so my son could meet him and learn more about space travel.
I left the dinner thinking – Lee is really nice and interesting and a calm, steady presence. And yes, very connected politically. I enjoyed talking to him.
We interacted periodically over the next 2 years. Conference conversations, holiday cards, a sympathy card when his mother died. An important business contact who I genuinely liked. That’s all.
Flash forward to December 2019. I presented at a board meeting he was at. The next day as I was leaving the hotel I ran into him in the lobby. I saw him before he saw me. I read people really well and here’s what I saw: A sadness hung on him like I hadn’t noticed before. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Sadness, worry, burdens – I couldn’t quite tell. But I could see in that moment his heart was heavy for some reason and he seemed so alone. I can’t really explain it but I felt compelled to say hello and reach out in kindness. So I did. We chatted a bit and I said something along the lines of – You know, we never end up talking at these meetings and I wish we did. Next time you’re in DC, we should have lunch or dinner.
It was a business lunch or dinner I was proposing. A friendly gesture. I meant it too. I’d like to get to know him better from a professional perspective. He smiled and perked up and said – That would be great. Let’s do that. Im in town in mid-January. Let’s get dinner. I agreed and departed for the airport. He seemed happier after we talked and that made me happy. He’s such a nice man. It almost hurt to see him so burdened.
What I didn’t know and found out soon afterwards is that he was in the midst of an unplanned and unwanted divorce. His marriage of 20 years had disintegrated and he was devastated and uncomfortable about every aspect of his future.
I also didn’t know that on the night before I approached him in the hotel lobby, he had been commiserating with a fellow board member and she had said, “Lee, I see you with someone like Brandy.” That comment was really out of the blue because as much as I like this person – I don’t know her well. I was surprised to later hear she had said that to Lee. But grateful. Ever grateful in fact.
How could I have ever known that in just 6 months we would be married and blissfully happy?