Jeffrey Armistead Lee



My dad had a law degree, but he never used it much. He worked demolition, then construction, then found a niche installing lighting for art. He liked playing guitar and trading stories at the gym. And he loved the video production classes he took at the Arlington Career Center. He managed to land a gig making an instructional video or two for the FDA. But video was mostly an expensive new hobby that arrived just in time for the empty nest left by his kids going to college.

He was never very good at it, to be honest. He didn’t have much photographic sensibility. Ironically, he failed to light many of his shots.  And he could never remember how to get things done in Premiere or Final Cut, instead writing out long lists of instructions for himself (always on graph paper)–a habit I took to be an amusing piece of fuddy duddyism at the time, but now understand to have been among the first creeping tendrils of his dementia.

When he got his diagnosis and had decided to go home to Vermont it was abrupt. He didn’t want to bother anyone, I think. My sister and I learned one day that our childhood home had been sold. But I managed to grab some things, including his stacks of DV tapes, and I digitized and uploaded them a few years ago.

I never really went through them until now. There are a lot of shots of books about Congo for the documentary he never finished (our church hosted a journalist who’d fled Mbutu’s regime, which got dad intrigued). There’s video from his kids’ graduations. Video of his buddies’ bands. There is a recording of an entire production by Le Neon, the French theater that opened in the strip mall up the street, whose cast my dad befriended and who would periodically descend upon our tiny house for grown-up parties bursting with Gallic charisma in a way I found terrifying.

And there’s some video of him. I wish there was more. Clips that capture his wit, his comic timing, his enthusiasms, his laugh. Or, like here, the depth of intellect and feeling he carried through the world. Let’s be frank: this video is not a good way to sell accent lighting. It is not sufficient for that task. But it’s both not enough and too much–a glimpse of how much was there, what a ridiculous abundance. He renders the task for which he wrote those words irrelevant, absurd. Dad, you are supposed to be selling lights, not the sublime!

My father was a gentle, beautiful person, and everyone who met him knew it. It is tempting, sometimes, to succumb to the bitter sense that his gifts were wasted, especially after watching his disease slowly cheat him of them these last seven years. But of course they weren’t wasted. I just wish those of us who got to witness them had more company.

Goodbye, dad. We love you. We miss you. We have missed you. We will always miss you.

About the author

Tom Lee
By Tom Lee