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Silver Taps to honor Jinhoon Lee

Graduate student personified personal bravery, passion

Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 00:02

At the surface, Jinhoon Lee was a soft-spoken man with a spark of curiosity behind his eyes. But beyond the first impression, Lee’s life story is, to the very end, a story of passion, bravery, hope and above all, love.

Lee was a member of the Korean Catholic community and took Glycerius as his confirmation name. He was a devoted husband, a caring friend, a dedicated Catholic and a faithful family member.

But for those who knew him best, this list cannot hold a candle to the memory of his genuine smile or his appetite for life.

When Changjoo Nam, computer science graduate student, met Lee at a meeting for their Korean Catholic community, a friendship was born. In the course of this friendship — which spanned both of their presidencies of the Korean Catholic Association — Nam said most of his favorite memories  center around the laughter shared over dinners between Nam and Lee’s family.

Nam said he recalls the November day when he and Lee went crabbing in Galveston. With too few devices, not enough warm clothing and no luck finding a good crabbing spot, the trip was a textbook example of a failed adventure and the group came back empty-handed. Despite this, Nam said he cherished this memory with Lee, for Lee had a way of bringing cheerfulness with him everywhere.

To Nam, this characteristic was a mark of bravery. Whether facing a failed trip or the skin cancer that caused his death, Lee seemed to have an infinite supply of hope.

“After several months, I heard that his cancer recurred in April,” Nam said. “He had a stiff upper lip even in the difficult situation. He was always joyful and energetic even with his serious health condition.”

Nam said he never saw Lee angry. There was always a smile.

“He was a devoted and passionate person for everything,” Nam said. “He really loved his wife. He spared no efforts for our community.”

Nam said he spent a lot of his time studying and researching and traveled when he could with his wife, who is in South Korea and could not be reached for comment.

Julian Kang, associate construction science professor and advisor to Lee, said he was impressed with Lee from the first time he met him at a conference in Japan.

“I attended a conference and he happened to attend the conference with his professor, when he was working on his master’s degree in South Korea,” Kang said. “That was the first time I met him and I was impressed at the level of curiosity and want to know what was going on.”

Lee’s curiosity manifested itself in his work with data structure, Kang said.

“He was very ambitious with things he was interested in,” Kang said. “He was very curious about how technology is going to change, the way we make decisions and also, at the same time, he was interested in how we are going to sustain our data.”

Kang said Lee was working on his doctoral degree and hoped to one day move back to South Korea and achieve a faculty position at a Korean university.

“He investigated many of the current movements going on in terms of using software independence structure to maintain the data so that no matter what is happening to those applications down the road, we will still be able to keep the data for the entire life cycle,” Kang said.

Kang said Lee never considered his death due to cancer a possibility and was driven by his passion for the subject, remembering when Lee presented his paper at a conference in Canada with only months to live.

“He could barely walk,” Kang said. “He still had a burning desire grow as a future scholar in our area. I was very impressed by his strong will to give a presentation. He gave two presentations, which is not common to see from any graduate-level student.”

This characteristic remained true to the end, Kang said. Knowing that Lee was going to fly back to South Korea for medical care and that he had one last chance to visit, Kang traveled to M.D. Anderson in Houston where Lee was staying before the flight back.

“The discussion I exchanged with him was how he would communicate with me over email once he went back to Korea and things he would maybe do next month,” Kang said. “We never talked about how he was going to cure the cancer, he never expected that he was going to die. Instead, he was coming to Korea for a better treatment, then he was coming back to the United States with better health conditions.”

Hong-Hoe Kim, computer science graduate student and a friend from the Korean Catholic Association, said Lee carried his religion with him until the end.

“He was a very religious person,” Kim said. “Even though he had pain, he didn’t lose hope that God will save him.” 

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