Updated: Dec. 4, 2014 at 4:04 p.m.
Mark Lee was a diligent and quick-witted fourth-year law student, who will be remembered by his friends and family for taking the challenges of law school in stride with an easy-going attitude and warm laugh.
Lee, a 35-year-old part-time law student, was found dead in his Columbia Heights apartment Sunday. He was pursuing a career in business and contract law, and had worked at K2M Group Holdings, Inc. in Leesburg, Va. since 2010. The D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has not yet released his cause of death.
A native of Newport News, Va., Lee was a sports fanatic, whose favorite teams included the University of North Carolina’s men’s basketball team and the Chicago Bears, said his father, Tom Lee. The two spoke every Sunday night, mostly about whatever games had been played that day.
“He loved his sports. We would talk sports and go to Nats games and things like that,” Tom Lee said. “He was also an avid reader. He would read everything and anything.”
His father and stepmother found Lee in his apartment Sunday night. They last spoke Saturday morning and they hadn’t heard from him since.
Conrad Fisher, who took law classes with Lee, said the two often sat in the back of the classroom, and that he would remember Lee’s kind smile around campus.
“He would, however, occasionally drop an unprompted gem, of wit or wisdom, and it was regularly accompanied or followed by his delightful, rumbling chuckle,” Fisher said. “These invariably made me wish that he talked more in class.”
Lee grew up playing basketball and attended then-head coach Dean Smith’s camp at UNC at Chapel Hill from age 10 through his senior year of high school.
Lee graduated from Virginia Tech in 2002 with a degree in communications and a minor in political science. After working a few jobs, he enrolled in classes at the University of South Carolina and joined Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough as a paralegal.
After he decided to go to law school, Lee would regularly update his father about how he was faring on his practice LSATs. He scored in the 94th percentile when he took the test, and was accepted to GW, Georgetown and George Mason universities.
“He always liked the school,” his father said. “And he was very happy with the classes and the professors.”
He later moved to Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough’s D.C. office, and then left to start working at K2M, a global medical device company, where he helped ensure the company was complying with federal regulations while working with clients.
Lee was popular around the office, and easily formed relationships with employees in different departments, said Lee Lowder, the director of global compliance at K2M, Inc.
After starting at the company, Lee quickly earned an award as a top employee, Lowder said.
“He enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of law school. That was one of the main attractions for him,” Lowder said. “He was proud he was able to get into a top program, such as GW.”
Lee was always friendly to the other members of his law class, said Casey Miller, a student in his section of classes. He would regularly ask about her dog and joke with her.
“He made people feel at ease. He was very easy to talk to, very unassuming and very approachable,” she said.
Dean Blake D. Morant announced the death to the law school community in an email Tuesday, and the school hosted a gathering to remember Lee on Wednesday afternoon.
Lee’s death is the second tragedy to strike the law school in the past semester, after second-year law student Gregory Levine was found dead in his Jefferson House apartment last month.
“We recognize that this is an extremely difficult time for our students, and we will continue to provide support for one another,” Morant wrote in his message. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mark’s family, his loved ones, and friends.”
He is survived by his mother and stepfather, Susan and Tom West, of Newport News, Va.; father and stepmother, Tom and Mary Lee, of Leesburg, Va.; stepsisters Sherri Spellar and Cathy Snowden; and predeceased by his half-brother, Joshua Ryan Lee.
Calling hours will be held Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Peninsula Funeral Home in Newport News. A funeral service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Grace Methodist Church in Newport News, with a burial to follow.