Howard Lee, SPA/BA ’69, WCL/JD ’73

Scholarship Honors Alum and Long-time Dean’s Advisory Council Member

Not only was Howard Lee, SPA/BA ’69, WCL/JD ’73, proud of his degrees from American University, he was so engaged with the Washington College of Law and its students’ success that he served nearly three decades on the Dean’s Advisory Council.

When Lee died in June 2022 at age 75, members of the council cited his devotion to AUWCL in championing a need-based scholarship in his honor. The Howard Lee Memorial Scholarship Fund will make its first award next academic year.

“Scholarships were his passion,” said Joel Michaels, WCL/JD ’75, who chairs the Dean’s Advisory Council. “When you look at his history for giving, you’ll see a lot of support for scholarships.”

Rick Haskins, a friend of Lee’s for more than 50 years, said Lee would be delighted to know there is a scholarship bearing his name. “Howard and I had many conversations about higher education and higher education administration,” said Haskins. “He was very interested in helping young people get an education, particularly in the law school.”

Lee was known to extol Washington College of Law for providing students with “an opportunity to learn from some of the finest policymakers, advocates, and judges serving our country.” He also maintained that learning to think like a lawyer, or taking a lawyerly approach to problems, enabled people to dissect challenges in a thoughtful and effective way.

Haskins described Lee as “one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known in my life” and someone with “a big heart.”

Although Lee encouraged young people to enter the legal field, he did not practice law himself. Instead, he spent much of his own career in the political arena. After graduating from AUWCL, he worked as an assistant and legislative director for Congressman Walter E. Fauntroy, who represented the District of Columbia. Lee later held other public service roles, including as director of the Thrift Depositor Protection Oversight Board under the George H.W. Bush administration and, from 1981 to 1987, as staff director for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy.

Lee also served the Commonwealth of Virginia, including several years as a judge for the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, before becoming managing director of the Cosmos Alliance, a D.C.-based investment group involved in emerging biotechnologies.

“Howard Lee was an extraordinary individual who lived our motto to ‘Champion What Matters,’” said AU Washington College of Law Dean Roger A. Fairfax. “He was selfless and generous with his time and resources, and I am grateful to have had an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with him. He visited with me in the Dean’s Suite a number of times, and we shared a keen interest in his historic work on District of Columbia home rule.”

Lee’s goddaughter, Marie Johnson Martin, said he played a big role in her decision to pursue a legal career, and he was proud when she received her law degree. Martin currently works in real estate law.

Lee and Charles M. Johnson, CAS/BA ’68, —Martin’s father—met their first year as undergraduates at American University and became best friends. Lee’s parents died when he was young and he had no siblings. Martin remembers Lee as a fixture in her family.

“He was a surrogate father to us. He was a big part of our lives,” she explained. Lee gave her a car when she turned 16. And he was part of all the household’s holiday meals and celebrations.

Echoing Haskins, Martin said Lee believed strongly in providing financial assistance for bright, hardworking students.

“After my father’s passing in December 2012, the first thing Howard did was to organize a scholarship fund in my father’s memory,” Martin said. “So, I think Howard would be thrilled by the idea that his name was associated with a scholarship that allowed others to attend a school he loved.”

Martin and Haskins said many people were aware of Lee’s passion for legal education, but few knew that his curiosity carried him to develop expertise in other, unexpected, directions. He was, for example, a skillful chef.

“He had every possible kitchen gadget you could think of,” Haskins said. “And he used them all,” Martin added. Lee was famous for his fruitcake, olive bread, and “phenomenal” Chinese cuisine.

Lee leaves a deep legacy at American University. He contributed annually to AUWCL for more than three decades and was active in raising funds to build the new law school. Lee also established three awards to help AU students cover their academic expenses. Michaels said the breadth of Lee’s influence was evident by the spectrum of people who expressed interest in the Dean’s Advisory Council scholarship campaign.

“There were a number of people Howard’s age who wanted to fund this educational scholarship in Howard’s memory, but the overall makeup of those interested in contributing is a wide demographic,” said Michaels. “He had an impact on so many people.”

In addition to serving on the Dean’s Advisory Council, Lee was a recipient of the WCL Dean’s Award and a distinguished member of WCL’s Mooers Society and Mussey-Gillett Society.

“Howard’s incredible legacy will live on through future generations of lawyers who will benefit from the scholarship fund the Dean’s Advisory Council has established in his honor,” the Dean said.