James would hate for us to write stuff about him. He would be embarrassed to have people gush over his memory with their stories about him. But sorry James, you're not here to stop us.
Dignity, honour, and respect.
Written by: Dean Lee
Finding the right words to describe one of your best friends is tough. When that friend just happens to be one of the most talented writers around, the task becomes daunting. But somehow, when I think of James Lee, the words “dignity”, “honour” and “respect” seem appropriate to me . If you were close to James, I’m almost certain you’ve heard him say those words and even if you haven’t, you’ve probably felt them in one way or another.
I’ve personally felt those words in the form of the four finger arm bruise. This was the mark that was left behind after he would grab your arm to make a point in the middle of a passionate conversation. I’ve even felt them around my neck once when I accidentally insulted him during a production.
He was passionate about his beliefs and we loved him for that. We respected him for that.
James described himself as an on/off switch. He would say “you either get all of me or none of me, there is no inbetween.” So, just know that as a friend of James, he gave you his all. Nothing less.
An incredible amount of thought went behind everything he did. Not just in his work but in the smallest of things. Stupid little things. He had an unbelievable way of turning a gift from a dollar store into the most meaningful thing you’ve ever received. There’s a tacky cat clock on the wall of our office that has become an art piece somehow. That was the dignified touch that James put on things.
He was an artist but more importantly to me, James was like a brother. We shared a last name by chance but he really did feel like family. Some people said we were more like a married couple, sometimes finishing each others sentences. He would usually go back and rewrite the sentences I finished but I was never offended. There was even a time when a hotel clerk saw that we shared the same last name at check-in and assumed we wanted the same room.
We took separate rooms at the hotels but I did share a room with him at work for approximately 5-6 years. I’m always surprised when I do the math that it wasn’t longer because I feel like I’ve known James all my life. I will always cherish those years with him. It was an honour to be his partner. He taught me so much and made my time at work not work. We had fun. We laughed. We argued, then we’d laugh some more.
Needless to say, James’ influence runs deep in the people he touched and because of that I like to think that he is alive and well through us in some way. At the very least, he will always be remembered as a true friend to me. One who had dignity in my eyes. One who I still honour and one I will always respect.
James, my brother
Written by: Stephen Lee
My name is Stephen Lee. James was my big brother.
When we were kids he looked out for me all the time. Even as adults he was always watching my back. He had a way of supporting whatever you wanted to do, and he would always try to lend a hand wherever he could. If he thought you were going in the wrong direction, he was afraid to let you know it.
He had a terrific sense of humor, too. I remember the way we used to joke around and laugh all day long. I have to confess that in recent months I've gotten quite inarticulate on the topic of my brother. He was just such an awesome guy, and I miss him every day. Beyond that I'm not sure what to say.
Thanks to Cosmo and Paul and everyone else involved in putting this board together. I'm looking forward to hearing comments from all my new friends in the ad business. Also, hi, mom and dad! I know you're reading this.
Written by: Joseph
James was the ultimate perfectionist. He was obsessed with being flawless at everything that he tried. Whether it was bunny hopping on his mountain bike through Stanley Park, playing connect four, or creating an ad, he never thought he was good enough. He never realized how amazing he was at virtually everything he chose to do. That includes being a friend to me. I count myself very lucky to have known James.
i'll miss you
Written by: cosmo
james was an incredible guy. he had unbelievable values and an incredible sense of what was right. he approached life with a passion that was addictive and infectuous, but it was always based on what was right. if he believed in something it was always with 100% of his being, you knew exactly where you stood with james, and exactly how he felt about things. his observations on life were flawessly accurate and often left you in stitches. i used to look forward to coming into work in the morning, making a cup of tea and spending five minutes catching up with james and dean. those five minutes often extended to half an hour or more and i'd invariably land up leaving with a sore stomach, or tea dripping out my nose from laughing so much at james. sometimes the conversations were funny, sometimes insightful, sometimes just about how to repair a hole he'd punched in some drywall, but i always left a conversation with james feeling like i was better off than before. thanks you james. i'll miss you. cosmo
The cat on the wall
Written by: hugh Ruthven
James had a great energy. When I think of all the things I could say, to me that sums him up best. We worked on many presentations together.....but I remember working on one in particular, when it was on a weekend and I had my kids at work and James was there. My kids were only 5 and 6 at the time and they met James and decided that they wanted to stay in his office while I worked on some part of the pitch down the hall. I walked past James' office a number of times over the next half hour and heard giggles and laughter from the three of them.
My kids never forgot that interaction with James. A year or two later, if I was going into the office on a weekend, my kids would always ask if James was going to be there. They said it would make a difference of whether they wanted to come in. And that was based on just one 1/2 hour meeting with James....
They always said, 'Dad, is that man going to be there.....the one that has the cat clock on the wall. If he's there, I think I'd like to come'.
And that's all you really need to know, to understand the power of James.
Written by: Brett Macfarlane
James saw opportunity where you least expected it. One time a couple days after a campaign we worked on together was awarded a Cannes radio lion I went to see James about a :10 station announcer read. Basically the equivalent of asking Frank Gehry to design a dog house... but that day James was the only one around.
Naturally I was a little sheepish and embarassed briefing him on such a project and kept apologizing. In response he said, “Hey man, stop apologizing, you can make anything a creative opportunity if you look at it the right way.” Sure enough, a short while later he came back with a read that was more than just a well written announcer line, but an announcer line with an idea to it. It was just a small moment of brilliance that garnered no widespread praise, but to me really exemplified his professionalism in addition to his creativity.
"I like reading your poker emails..."
Written by: Nick
I run a little poker tour out of my house. After each tourney, I update the website with the results and send out a group email. James was part of that group email. My updates have cheesy headlines like "Swyul Kills" and "The Shoe Fits". And I use all kinds of poker lingo that no one understands. It makes me happy.
Whenever I saw him in the hallways at work, I would try to convince James (and Dean) to play... and although I think he saw the beauty in cards (LOL), he hadn't yet taken the plunge and played. I took the "subtle" hint... and one day offered to take him off the group email list. His reply? "No, no... keep me on there man, I like reading your updates, I like your stories." To have one of the greatest copywriters of my time say that about my crappy poker website, well, that was pretty cool.
I still hold those poker tournaments. And James is still part of my email list.
Wish He Knew
Written by: Dan Strasser
I tried a number of times to write this blog entry and every time I stopped because I didn't know exactly what I wanted to say. I still don't.
What I do know is that James had a huge impact not only on my advertising career, but on my personal life. I only knew him for a year and a half, and no one ever, has influenced me as much as he did (and continues to). We hung out on weekends and he would show my wife and I all around Vancouver. Every place that we go to now is a place that James took us to. He was such a great person. Filled with fire and passion and really good heart. We'd play pranks on each other, push each others buttons, laugh together, and talk shop together.
I don't know where I am going with all this, except that I wish he knew how much he meant to me, how much I looked up to him even though I am almost twice his height, how much he impacted my life, and how much I miss him.
A chance encounter with John Cleese
Written by: Alan Russell
There were countless reasons to be jealous of James Lee, but one humorous cause for envy was his serendipitous meeting with my comedic hero, John Cleese. It happened, he told me, as he and his art director were cycling through a less populated area of Stanley Park. Anxious to know how the conversation went, I eagerly quizzed James on the encounter. He replied “Well, we told him how much we admired his work. Then, when he discovered we were in advertising, he was highly complimentary about our craft saying, modestly, he wished he had that kind of talent.” “And then what happened?” I asked. “Nothing”, said James, “I just kept looking at him thinking to myself “Holy #@!#$!!, I’m talking to John Cleese. Holy #$@!%!, I’m talking to John Cleese.” I’d guess that was one of those extremely rare moments when James Lee couldn’t conjure up quite the right words.
James Lee Foundation
Written by: Ken Lee, the father of James
To: Rob Whittle,
National President, DDB Canada
On behalf of the family of James Lee, we sincerely thank you.
You started, led and finished this great task in grand fashion.
Your announcement speech as a chairman of the foundation was so
fitting and reaffirming for that special evening.
To the founding members DDB, GRIP LTD, LOWE ROCHE, RETHINK and TBWA
we are deeply moved by the way you cherish your friendship, your
unselfish and unconditional contributions.
Geoffrey, you started his career when James was still a shy kid at school.
Chris, you stole him from Geoffrey and started to formulate him to be a pro.
Rob, you took him under your wing and made him the best in Canada winning 6 Lions.
Dean, your video tribute let us re-live the life with James for few minutes.
Paul, I’m so sorry you lost your buddy to talk about BMX, Movies, Space, .....
Sue, the only person who can control James with love and kindness.
James, I'm sure, is probably watching us from faraway in his favorite white
background, most likely disapproving all this commotion we are making about him.
But it's OK.
With all you founding members, we should be proud that the Foundation will produce many upcoming talents to the industry, years and years to come.
Let this Foundation be a beacon of the industry we all love.
Family of James Lee,
Ken, Sue and Stephen
A Christmas memory.
Written by: Lynn Oucharek
It's coming up to Christmas and some of you know this story or parts of it but it says alot about the person that James was.
Two Christmas' ago James decided that he was going to stay in Vancouver. Through great insistence on my part, and the promise of fodder for upcoming ads, he agreed to spend Christmas Eve with my extended family. I should tell you that in order for James to make this dinner he had to rent a car in Vancouver and make quite a long trip which in itself was a great sacrifice, but that's just who he was.
Just before dinner the doorbell rang and there was James looking absolutely terrible, sweat pouring down his face, white as a ghost. I asked him if he was ok and he told me that he had a little too much partying the night before but there was no way he was missing dinner if only for the fact that I might think he had chickened out. When he came in he had personally picked out gifts for everyone in my family. As others have mentioned he was a man about the details, that night I realized that it really was beyond even what I had understood in the 7 years we worked together. He remembered a conversation we had about my grandmother and her love of Crown Royal shots, you should know that he gave her an amazing christmas tree ornament filled with Crown Royal.
He went in to meet my family and then settled down to show my two boys how to set up the tv game he had given them. A couple of minutes later a know on the door and it was the RCMP, actually 4 cars in our front yard. They wanted to know where the owner of the vehicle was, as James came out of the family room you could see him assessing the situation, always the professional he got them to step outside with him. As it turned out he had hit the emergency button in the rental car and then turned off the OnStar so they thought he had been hijacked. Once he had that squared away he came back to plenty of questions and jokes none of which phased him. The night was a complete success. He had his first dose of a my crazy family and my family had the good fortune of getting to know him. There were many times after that night that I had teased him about his big entrance and love of the attention. The truth is he was one person that really didn't like the public attention.
I will always be grateful for that Christmas and the memories that I can carry forward to upcoming Christmas'.
Written by: Hammer
Whenever I think of James, I smile.
Reason is I would do anything to share a laugh with him. Actually I think it was more of a mission of mine to make him laugh. After all if you could make one of the world's funniest copywriters laugh, then I figured I was doing all right. As I write this I think how self-serving this must sound. However, I think it is another example of how James was able to bring out the best in all of us.
The most endearing thing about James is that he would be disbelieving of and embarrassed by all of the kind words shared about him. Disbelief because he really has no idea of how much he means to all of us. And embarrassed because he probably doesn't think he is worthy of it. Well lil' buddy, you are. And I use the present tense because you will continue to be an inspiration for so many of us.
Crap, this isn't making you laugh... is it?
I miss you, James
Written by: Randy Stein
Sometimes, after someone is gone, you wish you'd appreciated them more. But with you James, I realize I appreciated every second I had with you. Maybe because you were so funny. Or maybe because of those few times when - despite it being really hard for you - you showed me your concerned/proud/soft side. Or just maybe it was because you were such a good friend. And spending time with you was always a good time. At your place on Georgia, at the beach, just spending countless hours talking about nothing at the office - being with you was always where I wanted to be. And when I was hanging out with you, I never wanted to be anywhere else. James, you were such a bright light in my life. And now, every time I come across a strange news article, or photo, or whatever, my first instinct is to call you and tell you about it - or e-mail it to you.... I hope that instinct never fades. I think about you almost every day, and that thought always makes me smile. Thank you for everything, James. I miss you.
P.S. Lucas is collecting Hockey Cards now. And when I ask him - which I do frequently - who gave him his first hockey cards, he always answers "Uncle James".
An old e-mail from James
Written by: Randy Stein
Below is an e-mail from James sent to me in 2005. I read it often. It almost goes without saying that there was no title, and no further explanation. It was just this. Classic James. I thought it was only right to share. Here it is:
I was in an elevator with a trashy blonde and this was our conversation:
ME: You just move in?
HER: Yeah. Hi, I'm Trista.
ME: I'm James. So... is that "Trista" with two T's?
HER: Nope. Just one. T-R-I-S-T-A.
ME: But that's two T's.
HER: No, it isn't. Oh....... yeah, it is. I forgot to count that first one.
HER: So... are you a chef?
HER: Then why are you wearing a white shirt?
Written by: Andrew Bradley
I was lucky enough to know James at Humber's Copywriting program back in 95. He was always head and shoulders more brilliant than the rest of us -- and that drove us crazy -- but James was so likable, you couldn't help but root for him.
I don't know how it started, but some us started to call James 'The Ninja' for a bunch of reasons. First of all, he was Asian (although Ninjas are Japanese and James wasn't, but as a half-Japanese guy I'll say that white people group all us 'orientals' together anyhow). And most of all, he had this knack for disappearing suddenly. Especially at parties.
Sure, he'd seem to be having a good time whenever we were all out. He'd tell a few jokes, hang out, have a drink in hand. But then just when stuff started to really get going, James would be gone. Poof. And nobody would ever witness him leaving or could recount James saying "Hey guys, I'm taking off". He'd disappeared into thin air -- like, yes, a Ninja. Sans puff of smoke and deadly sharp stars embedded in someone's forehead of course.
We never took it personally. We always figured James had something better to do -- like make another award-worthy ad for his student book (note to therapist: clearly, I'm still in awe of the guy's talent). But we were always a little disappointed that he didn't hang around longer for when things really got good.
When I heard of James untimely death last year, I guess that's one of the first things that came to mind -- sadly, but fittingly, our friend 'The Ninja' disappeared without warning again. Just as things were getting really good.
Written by: Jaimie Turkington
I had the pleasure of knowing James as a client – as a customer of his incredible talent. The work that James and Dean produced was nothing short of brilliant.
James was an idea man. His work ethic, discipline and undying quest for perfection elevated his status to idea master.
He was my friend, my colleague and an inspiration to me.
My son James' key tag.
Written by: Ken Lee
Written by: johnny mcCormack
Early one morning in Montreal...
Written by: Lorne Kinsella
... I raced downstairs to the lobby of the Queen Elizabeth hotel to meet the crew for a four day shoot capturing urban Canada imagery. A fellow approached me as I walked towards the table and, lo and behold, it was my long lost pal Dean Lee. Reuniting with one of my favourite old work colleague's (and drinking pals) was amazing and emotional.
Dean and I spent the day catching up on everything that had happened over the last 12 years between shots and location hopping. Once we had some quiet break time, Dean explained what had happened to James. Frankly, I couldn't believe my ears. Surely Dean was talking about another James Lee. But, he wasn't.
I can't say that James was in my thoughts on a regular basis after I left Palmer Jarvis, but his presence was constant and of extreme importance in the fabric of my memories about a very special time for me in my career. Whenever I would recall those days, James was there. And there he will remain.
It's taken some time for this news to sink in. He was an incredible talent.
It's two years now, but my sincerest condolences to James' family and close friends.