Former BYU president Rex E. Lee was one of this country's foremost legal advocates. He was an absolute master in the courtroom. In spite of illness that would end his life within weeks, he was determined to use his talents to continue serving the university.
During a stormy week in January 1996, he traveled with a small group, including his wife, Janet, to Denver, Colo. His intention was to argue a case on BYU's behalf before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals after the American Civil Liberties Union appealed a lower court decision in a housing case against the university.The Denver courtroom was full of lawyers and clients (waiting for their cases to be tried). During the presentation of the ACLU's argument, there was the usual hustle and bustle and inattention on the part of everyone except those directly involved.
At the conclusion of the appellant's presentation, Pres. Lee wheeled himself to the center of the courtroom, adjusted his oxygen bottle alongside his wheelchair, pulled the microphone on the podium down close to his mouth and said, "Good morning, Your Honors. I am Rex Lee, counsel for Brigham Young University. . . ."
One or two lawyers who were working on their cases put their notebooks away and began to listen. The argument followed, and Pres. Lee drew obvious strength from the exchange with the judges. His voice became stronger, he became more animated, there was a chuckle here and a wise observation there. Soon, everyone in the courtroom was watching. The place became quiet.
The master advocate was at work. His last argument was clear, lucid, direct, thoughtful and showed a magnificent grasp of the (relevant) cases. It was almost like a sermon. His text was the law, his congregation the court and everyone in the courtroom. His subject was Brigham Young University, his beloved alma mater, and its history, its traditions, its values, its very purpose.
Janet had tears in her eyes and perhaps recognized that there would be few moments left like this one for her dear husband. Pres. Lee gave everything he had to the university for a period of 20 years. This was his last gift.