Quickly! Summon the drummers, the trumpeters and the tubas. We’ll need twirlers and flag girls and at least six marching bands. I have identified my 2013 Woman of the Year and please tell our friends at Budweiser to give the Dalmatian the day off because there will be two who must ride on top of the big wagon beside the driver of the Clydesdales in our delightful yet imaginary parade.
Our winner was positively identified over the weekend when the Rhodes Trust revealed the names of 32 brilliant young men and women who are in the latest class of the most-famous academic award given to our college graduates. Lindsay E. Lee of the University of Tennessee was among our future leaders who have been chosen as Rhodes Scholars-Elect and her achievements are mind-boggling to say the least.
Oh, don’t worry. I know we still have more than a month remaining in the year and admit that we find people we want to celebrate most nearly every day. But, trust me on this one. My 2013 winner is such a sensational “lock” - no one could possibly come along in December with better qualifications or, more importantly, such infallible proof.
A Rhodes Scholar is special, like an Eagle Scout or a U.S. Marine or my personal favorite, a Christian Athlete of the Year. Lindsay, from Oak Ridge, has majored in mathematics and Spanish and has done research at the National Institute of Mathematical and Biological Synthesis. Great gad, I would stumble just trying to walk into such a place.
Lindsay has also studied at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Vanderbilt Medical Center and visited such places as Barcelona and Tokyo in her quest for knowledge. She has written opinion pieces for the student newspaper, volunteered in homeless shelters and children’s hospitals and has served as president of the Dean’s Student Advisory Council at UT. Further, she is a tireless advocate for disability issues on the local, national and global stages. When does someone such as this even sleep?
Regardless, I am confident Lindsay will revel in this moment as I hereby declare my 2013 Woman of the Year … is Lindsay Lee’s mother, Julie Lee, who is a teacher’s aide at Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge. While I have no doubt that Lindsay could indeed be our Woman of the Year one day in the future, it is Julie who has earned our highest possible admiration and laurels.
You must know that about 20 years ago Julie and her husband Joe sat in a doctor’s office and were told that their three-year-old daughter, Lindsay—yes, our Rhodes Scholar – had been positively diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Since that heart-wrenching day, Mrs. Lee has quite obviously never faltered in her stride or wavered in her resolve to make certain the world would become her daughter’s oyster.
As Lindsay’s aunt, Janet Easterday, confirmed for me, “Julie made sure Lindsay understood there was absolutely nothing she couldn’t accomplish. Lindsay is the most phenomenal person you will ever meet and it is all because Julie taught her that she was no different than anybody else.”
My goodness, Barcelona and Tokyo? The National Institute of Mathematical and Biological Synthesis? With muscular dystrophy thrown in! Our Rhodes Scholar has been unable to walk since the sixth grade, but with a motorized wheelchair, a bullet-proof personality, a steel-trap of a mind and a cheering family, the Haslam Scholar has become one of the University of Tennessee’s greatest victories of all time. Do you believe in miracles? There she is for the world to see.
“Last Saturday I was able to go to Birmingham with Julie and her two daughters,” Aunt Janet told me over the phone. “Lindsay has a sister, Loren, so the three of us were sitting on pins-and-needles when Lindsay came out of her interview and told us it didn’t seem to go well. When it was announced just hours later she had won, it was the most incredible moment I have ever experienced.”
You need to know that in the next two years, as Lindsay studies at Oxford, she plans to – quote -- “use her mathematical modeling expertise for analysis of successful health policy grounded in healthcare equality for all.” What a dandy time to look into something like that! But answer me this: do you think she just dreamed it up on her own?
Or do you suspect instead that during the last 20 years, she has been nurtured, challenged, encouraged, pushed, supported, boosted, flattered, fed and loved in ways that only mothers like our 2013 Woman of the Year can best understand? Puh-leeze! Mrs. Julie Lee is evermore a “lock” for my Woman of the Year. And her husband Joe, a construction superintendent for Rettenbach now building UT’s new student center, is a giant of a man as well.
I can only imagine “the stories behind the story” in this one, but I delight in the knowledge that when this saga of sacrifice, determination and triumph is finally told it will become an inspiration for parents with afflicted children all over the world. Don’t you see – the one thing that binds parents with challenged children is hope. That is the great gift Joe and Julie gave their daughter.
Lindsay Lee’s future is so brilliant it is darn-near blinding and, while our Mrs. Lee may have quietly assured herself that her daughter would never become a burden, our 2013 Woman of the Year has also made sure that her daughter’s brilliance and ability will one day benefit thousands of us, if not millions when all is said and done. What is life, what is success, if not that?
Sound the horns! Bring forth the famous Lipizzaner Stallions to lead the parade! And when the wagon behind the gorgeous Clydesdales stops to gather our 2013 Woman of the Year, please be sure our newest Rhodes Scholar sits right beside her because, for the first time that most can remember, it will finally become Lindsay’s turn to look with love and admiration in her eyes at this year’s winner.
For 20 years it has been the other way around, hence the Rhodes. Don’t you just love a full circle?
Mr. drum major, you may proceed at will, sir!