“No f*****ng way!”
That was Lee Dirks’ response when I finally managed to put 2+2 together, noticing on his Facebook page that Lee had been an undergraduate English major at Trinity University in San Antonio, where my dad had been Chair of the Department. Sure enough, Lee’s advisor was my father’s best friend, and one of mine, too. I’d known Lee several years by this time; not only was I not surprised by his exuberance, but I had selfishly looked forward to it, knowing how effusively he would respond to our new shared connection. That exuberance defined him and his life. It’s why all of his friends looked forward to being part of his world and his company. Our own world is smaller now.
Lee Dirks and his wife, Judy Lew, were lost in a car accident in Peru on August 28, when their car slid off a cliff. They were on their way to a hike to the Huchuy Qosquo ruins, a trek that was part of celebrating their 15th Wedding Anniversary. Lee and Judy leave behind their two children, Esmé (6) and Lila (4). And so many friends.
Lee had a highfalutin’ title at Microsoft, but everyone in the world of digital libraries and scholarly communication knew him. He wanted what we all of us wanted: ready access to more information online, and tools to use it. His encouragement seemed all the more striking because of where he worked; his willingness to leverage the Microsoft’s resources on behalf of libraries, archives, and academic publishing around the world struck us as exceptional, something we never took for granted. His enthusiasm and support made us wonder why every major technology company didn’t have someone like Lee. Except that there was no one else like Lee. He was an amazing ambassador for Microsoft, and he was more than that: he filled us with passion for our own ideas.
Not long after I left the Digital Library Federation, I blogged about the slow pace of change in academic libraries, and the need for a new generation of leaders to emerge and begin a conversation about the future. The post called for a summit of librarians, a real gathering. I had absolutely no idea of how it might come to pass–until I mentioned it to Lee. He not only understood my motivations but was enthusiastic about the opportunity, immediately pledging significant Microsoft support. I was stunned, and honored, and although I failed on my part due to a lack of time to organize the event, Lee let me know he was there when I needed him, if I circled back around. That was Lee, too. He held to his word. He’d pull you upright, grab you by the hand and walk with you to a place you wanted to go.
Our memories of Lee’s strength and love are fulsome enough to accompany us forward. But from one Texan to another: Goddamn it, Lee. We’re going to miss you. You were a good man and true, and you left us too soon.
A memorial fund to support the education of the children, Esme and Lila, has been established, and donations are welcome.