OBITUARY

Kyuhwan Francis Lee M.D., Ph.D.

March 1, 1929May 12, 2018
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Dr. Kyuhwan Francis Lee, M.D., Ph.D., 89, of Houston Texas passed away on May 12, 2018 at Memorial Hermann Hospital, S.W. from a stroke. He was born March 1, 1929, the son of Chung Ki Lee and Sook Ja Shin. Dr. Lee is survived by his devoted wife of 64 years, Dr. Yongok Eugenia Lee, four daughters, son, and seven grandchildren.

Dr. Lee was a loving husband, devoted father, brilliant medical researcher, and tireless leader in the Korean Community. Dr. Lee earned his medical degree from Severance Medical School in 1951 and his Ph.D. from Yonsei University in1963 in Seoul, Korea. A medical pioneer, he opened the first Korean cancer center at Yonsei University. He then permanently immigrated to the U.S. in 1963. Over his 40-year medical career, Dr. Lee was Professor Emeritus at Thomas Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia and the Head of Neuroradiology at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston. He published numerous medical articles, including in JAMA and The New England Journal of Medicine, the most respected medical journals in the world. He was contributing author to at least fifteen medical books. The Head of the National Institute of Health (NIH) was so impressed with Dr. Lee’s book on Empty Sella Syndrome that he volunteered to write the Forward for it. Among many medical awards, Dr. Lee was a finalist for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1979.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush awarded Dr. Lee with a medal for his work with the Korean Community in America. Among many contributions, Dr. Lee formed, and was the first president of the Korean American Association of Greater Philadelphia (KAAGP). He raised the necessary money to buy the 1st Korean Catholic Church in Philadelphia. He later relocated to Houston where he was instrumental in raising funds for the gymnasium at St. Andrew Kim’s Korean Catholic Church. In 2002, Dr. Lee turned his efforts to serving the needs of Korean senior citizens after seeing that many of them could not speak English and had nowhere to go. He met with Houston government officials, obtained all the necessary building and zoning permits, spearheaded a fundraising campaign that raised over $2 million (donating $175,000 to the program himself) and then managed the construction of the Korean Senior Center. He served as a non-paid president for 10 years, working five days a week to ensure that the center was successful. The Korean Senior Center is now open for seniors every weekday, providing lunch, classes and a place for seniors to connect and socialize. Classes include art, English, music, exercise, Bible, political discussions and line dancing.

In 2008, Roh Moo-Hyun, The President of South Korea, awarded Dr. Lee with its highest merit award - The National Meritorious Award for Service (Kook Ga Yoo Kong Jae), for his military service and lifetime work for the Korean community in America. For this reason, the Korean Consulate General, the highest Korean government official in Houston, attended Dr. Lee's funeral to pay its respect from the South Korean government.

Dr. Kyuhwan Francis Lee, a loving husband and father, brilliant researcher, and caring leader of the Korean community will be missed. However, his impact on the world will be enjoyed for generations.

  • FAMILY

  • Yongok E. Lee MD, Wife
  • Alice Lee and Deane Yang, PhD, Daughter
  • Stephen Yang, Grandson
  • Nicholas Yang, Grandson
  • Janet Lee-Crawford and John Crawford, Daughter
  • Cecilia "Songy" and Tom Calcagnini, Daughter
  • Camille Calcagnini, Granddaughter
  • Florence and Andrew Murray, Daughter
  • William Murray, Grandson
  • Annabel Murray, Granddaughter
  • Joseph Lee, MD and Jeannine Lee, Son
  • Jake Lee, Grandson
  • Josh Lee, Grandson
  • PALLBEARERS

  • Joseph Lee
  • Tom Calcagnini
  • John Crawford
  • Stephen Yang
  • Nicholas Yang
  • Kim Jong Duck (Godchild)

Services

  • Visitation Monday, May 14, 2018
  • Rosary Service Monday, May 14, 2018
  • Funeral Mass Tuesday, May 15, 2018
REMEMBERING

Kyuhwan Francis Lee M.D., Ph.D.

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Hyungsuk & Seung Choi

May 17, 2018

First, I met him at a Thanksgiving dinner table, I just remember him as a healthy old man with such a brightness.

Most recently, I saw him at my office when he brought his grand children. He was very generous, loving grandfather.

At that time, I could not imagine how great he had been. A little researches about him were enough to shock me.

I found out many articles about him in various ways, some from United States and some from Korea.

They all talk about his loyalty to Korea and his practices for love for Korean people, especially immigrants.

He saved so many Korean soldiers from death during Korean war, seeing 200 soldiers a day, saving lives with his hand-made devices.

It was quite surprising that the role of such a man was not well known in this generation.

Since he immigrated to US, he had devoted himself helping Korean people settle in this foreign country and became a regardful leader of Korean community.

I was also very surprised by his academic careers, he was even nominated as Novel medical prize.

I did not even imagine that the old man in front of me at the Thanksgiving dinner table was so great scholar.



Most of all, I can understand why he insisted to stay in Houston, Texas. He had been working there in numerous ways, and that was his mission and wish.

I would like to personally appreciate him for the efforts for Korean people during Korean war and Korean immigrants. I can feel his love and loyalty to not only Koreans but all human.

I believe that his mission on earth was loving and saving people around him and he completed it wonderfully. I respect and miss him.

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Biography

Kyuhwan Francis Lee, was born on March 1, 1929, the third son of Chung Ki Lee and Sook Ja Shin. Chung Ki Lee was the governor of Chung Dong in Quasan, South Korea. It was unusual for a Korean to govern in 1929. Japan had occupied Korea since 1910 (and would continue to do so until the end of WWII in 1945). However, our grandfather was very capable. He knew that Korea was emerging from being a “Hermit Kingdom” and had studied the important languages of the time in order to prepare. He became fluent in Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, English and Russian. The Japanese recognized our grandfather’s competence. They also knew that since he was the direct descendant of the first son of the first King in the Lee Dynasty the Koreans in the area would respect him. Therefore, our grandfather was allowed to be the governor of Chung Dong in Quasan, South Korea even during the Japanese occupation.

My dad inherited his father’s intellectual abilities and even surpassed them. During his childhood, every student in the country was required to take a three-day test in order to qualify for the next level of education. The top students qualified for the top schools and were likely to have a bright future. Options for the lower scoring students were more limited. As one could imagine, there was tremendous pressure on students to perform well on these tests. Since our grandfather was a governor, our dad attended an elite school with the children of both Japanese and Korean government officials. When the national elementary school exam was graded, it turned out that our dad earned the highest score in all of Korea. The Japanese were not happy. It was unthinkable to them that a Korean student should outperform all the Japanese students. When the Japanese principal of the school gave the highest scholastic award to our father, he was dismissed from his position and later assaulted by an angry Japanese parent with a broken beer bottle. However, the principal stood firm in his decision, stating that our father’s intellect was so superior to all other students that, as an educator, he could not deny him the award. To repay the principal for his integrity, my grandfather housed him and his family in one of the Lee ancestral homes in Seoul while he searched for a new position. As it turned out, the principal found another position in an even more prestigious school. It seems that God rewarded him for his good character.

For years I had heard the story of how my father had earned the highest score on the elementary school exam. However, it wasn’t until I was older that I had heard that the principal had been fired and that a Japanese parent had assaulted him for giving my dad the award. I never knew that there was “bad blood” between the Japanese and Koreans. Growing up, we had Japanese friends of the family. My dad and mom never said anything derogatory about the Japanese. That is why I was astonished at the age of 12 when I had heard a Korean friend’s parent say that he hated the Japanese. He said that he could never forgive them for taking over Korea. When I returned home, I asked my dad if he hated the Japanese. He merely shrugged and said, “Well, the Japanese brought Korea into the modern age.” You see my dad was enlightened. He saw no use in harboring grudges. Even though he and his family had been forced to speak Japanese, take Japanese names, and be subservient to the Japanese, he looked for the good in the situation and forgave them as soon as they left Korea. Proof of this was when he was invited to give a medical lecture at Tokyo University in 1982 after he had been a finalist for the Nobel Prize. As my father gave the lecture in English, he noticed that some of the doctors looked confused. He asked if they wanted him to speak in Japanese. They eagerly agreed. Even though Dad had not spoken Japanese in almost three decades, he had such an incredible memory that he was able to give a very complicated talk on the brain and spinal cord in perfect intellectual form Japanese. The medical professors were so impressed that the room erupted into a standing ovation at the end of the lecture. Whenever my dad recounted the story, it made him laugh. He marveled at how wonderfully the world had changed. Our dad had seen his principal be assaulted for awarding him the highest scholastic award in elementary school and then watched a room full of Japan’s most elite medical researchers applaud him for a lecture forty years later. Our dad had seen the world become a better place.

Of course, it was easy to be in awe of my father’s mental abilities. He was an incredible genius. After graduating elementary school as the number one student, he went on to medical school. Unfortunately, during the Korean War, my grandfather’s high position in the government made him a valuable target for the North Koreans. He was kidnapped one night while my father was away trying to get rice for the family. My dad never saw his father again. It was a devastating loss. I believe that every day after that my father lived his life to make his father proud. He worked hard to be the best and do the best as a tribute to the man who had been his biggest fan and supporter. As the war raged on, it was dangerous to stay near Seoul. Therefore, all five of the Korean medical schools combined and moved further south. When the final medical school exam was administered, my dad earned the highest score of all the students from those five medical schools. We still have his Valedictorian speech. In it, he spoke about the importance of leading the future. Clearly, my dad wanted to care for Koreans and follow in the footsteps of his father. Even at the age of 22 he knew what he wanted to accomplish in life.

After medical school, my dad went on to earn his Ph.D. at Yonsei University (one of the top universities in South Korea). Again, he graduated number one in his class. In 1960, Dad founded the Nuclear Medicine Hospital, the first cancer center in all of Korea. Cancer was beginning to become more common in Korea. My dad hated to see people die every day. Anxious to save as many sick patients as he could, my father would literally dig the foundation with construction workers after a 12-hour shift in order to expedite the opening of the facility. My mother says that he was never home before midnight. The cancer center celebrated its 60-year anniversary recently.

Even though our dad loved Korea, he knew that the U.S. was the country with the most advanced research in medicine. Therefore, he went to train at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. Of course, out of a class of 17 foreign doctors, Dad was the only one to pass the American licensing exam on the first try. Later, his wife, Dr. Yongok E. Park joined him. Our mom was an Ophthalmologist. She graduated from Kyungee Girls’ School and Sudo Medical School (Women’s Medical School). Our dad was so proud of her. He loved to tell us the story of how he kept hearing about an incredible Chinese eye surgeon with “magic” hands when he was at Mt. Sinai. She was reputed to be so good that her stitching was invisible. It made my dad beam with pride to later learn that the Chinese doctor was actually his Korean wife! That was what was so great about Dad. He didn’t have an envious bone in his body. He loved to celebrate excellence in others. He threw countless parties for Koreans who were admitted to Harvard, who were talented musicians, who were excellent doctors, etc. To him, the success of one Korean was success for all Koreans. However, our dad especially loved to brag about his wife’s success. He loved our mom more than anyone in the world. They were married for 64 years, but he loved her like a new bridegroom until the day he passed.

Dad finished training at Mt. Sinai and became a fully tenured professor at Thomas Jefferson University Medical School in Philadelphia. Over the next 20 years, he published hundreds of medical findings in the most prestigious medical journals in the world, such as JAMA and the New England Journal of Medicine. He co-wrote at least 10 medical books and the Head of the NIH was so excited by his book on Empty Sella Syndrome that he insisted on writing the Forward for it. Our dad later became the Head of the Neuroradiology Department at University of Texas Medical School in Houston. Dad lectured all over the world, including the Nobel conference in Stockholm, Sweden. As mentioned before, he was a finalist for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the only Asian and only neuroradiologist to be nominated in science. However, we never knew about the Nobel because Dad never talked about it. We only discovered this fact 25 years later when a book had named dad as one of the 100 most impactful scientists of the 20th Century.

Aside from his professional career, my dad kept true to his valedictorian speech and helped his fellow Koreans in America. His Catholic name was Francis and he and my mother prayed the St. Francis’ prayer of service together often. One day my dad read in the Philadelphia Inquirer that a Korean graduate student had committed suicide at Penn because he was lonely. That story galvanized my dad to form the Korean of Greater Philadelphia so that Koreans would have a network upon which to rely. It has over 200,000 members today. When my dad saw that the Korean Catholics had no church, he met with Cardinal Kroll of Philadelphia and convinced him to give them a parish. It is one of the largest Korean Catholic churches in the United States. My dad started the language program at Penn. Of course, he never told us. Ironically, my sister was not given a spot in the class when she tried to take it as a Penn undergrad. My dad did so much for Koreans in the United States. More than we will ever know. Chances are, if there is a Korean civic service in the U.S., it was either started by our dad or copied from something our dad had done. My father thought that it was his duty to serve Koreans and show America that Koreans were intelligent, productive assets to the country. He also felt that it was his duty to be a role model. He was the first Korean tenured Professor at Thomas Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia, one of the top medical schools in the country. He was one of the first Koreans to move out of an apartment and buy his own house in New Jersey. He was one of the first Koreans to live on the Main Line in the suburbs of Philadelphia and buy a Mercedes. My father didn’t do these things for himself alone. He felt that his success was important to show other Koreans that they could succeed in America, too. Due to the fact that he did so much for the Korean community, President George Bush awarded our dad with the Medal of Freedom, the highest award bestowed upon a civilian and the Korean government honored him with their Meritorious awards, its highest award. It is equivalent to getting a knighthood from the Queen. Both countries knew that Dad cared deeply about society and about Koreans. In fact, he cared deeply about people. Our dad was brilliant, and he chose to use his incredible mind not just for himself, but to cure people of diseases. He was a professor, not for the prestigious title, but because he cared about educating. Whenever he talked about teaching he would tell us how he would study the faces of his students as he lectured to see who looked puzzled. Then he would speak to that student individually and tailor his explanation in a way that he or she would understand. That is why 100% of our dad’s students over his 40-year career as a professor passed the Neuroradiology licensing exam ON THE FIRST TRY. That fact pleased Dad the most. That’s because he didn’t teach his students so that they would think he was a brilliant Neuroradiologist. He taught his students so that they would become brilliant Neuroradiologists.

K. Francis Lee was a brilliant Nobel Prize finalist and recipient of awards from the United States and Korea, however, he was just Dad to us. We didn’t know about most of our father’s achievements. He never talked about them. That’s because he never worked for awards. He worked to do the right thing. To us, our father was a great man because he raised four daughters and a son. He was the dad who cracked jokes and swam with us after work. He was the dad who beat us at ping pong, played volleyball, repaired countless bicycle tires, swapped out winter tires for summer tires on all five of our cars, set up Christmas lights the day after Thanksgiving and took them down the day after New Years (instead of leaving them up until summer as we do). He taught us how to box, drove for hours on road trips, took us to Great Adventure, Hershey Park and Disneyworld. He worked extra shifts at three different hospitals so that he could fund four Ivy League educations, graduate school, and medical school without loans. He paid the entire bill for four weddings without ever asking for assistance from the groom’s family. He paid for the wedding registry for his son. Our dad was an important man in the medical world, Korean community, and Republican Party, but most importantly he was a great dad. We will miss him dearly.