Legacy Letters


My Memories. My Values.

An excerpt: 

My first memory that I’m sure is wholly mine, that is, not based on family stories or photograph remembrances, occurred when I was in kindergarten. On this day, we were doing various activities where we rotated, at our own pace, from one activity table to another. At one of the rotational activity tables, there were only three chairs, but four activity spaces. When I approached, all three seats were already taken. I began doing my work standing, while waiting for a seat to open-up. Within a few minutes the girl next to me got up to leave, but as she was walking away she must have noticed something unfinished on her work and abruptly turned back towards the table, then without looking “sat” down in the chair again.  Unfortunately, when I saw her leave I was not anticipating the sudden return, so I had already moved the chair to my spot and sat down. There was nothing I could do as she fell to the floor. She immediately jumped up and accused me of pulling the chair out from under her. By this time, the teacher was aware of the commotion and based on the wails of the other girl, I was scolded. As an extremely shy and timid girl, my soft-spoken words of explanation sounded feeble. Despite the tears streaming down my face (I felt really bad that the other girl was hurt), the teacher simply would not believe to me. That left me feeling, not only distraught about the event, but also frustrated and angry that my intentions were being questioned.    

Flash forward forty years when I was attending a seminar about values and I identified integrity as one of my personal three core values. As I reflected back on this memory from preschool, I realized that it was not a newly discovered value. The importance of integrity was at my core long before I recognized it. Throughout my life I have always tried to live in accordance with my moral principles. Being honest and fair are integral parts of this value. It was no wonder that I felt wronged when the teacher scolded me. I was telling the truth and the punishment was unfair!   

I believe that to live with integrity one must also have perseverance and determination. Integrity implies a steadfast, long term adherence to moral values and to stay true to our convictions over the long-term we need perseverance and determination. These values are reflected in my family history through their life examples.   

My grandmother was in the group of the first 25 ladies hired by IBM as system engineers, an accomplishment achieved through diligent studying at college. My mother ran her own craft business, structured around raising me and my brother. Both my grandfather and father worked for the same companies for 30+ years. 

I was blessed to have such hardworking parents. They held me accountable and taught me responsibility. From their lessons, I developed my own guiding principle that helps me to live with integrity. I strive to “live life without regrets”.  

To my Son

An excerpt:

Your quiet, reserved nature hides your streak of independence and progressive thinking. These are family traits that I have seen in many relatives and I hope you fully embrace them, as you develop into a fine young man.  

Your passion for soccer was intense from the start. Out there on the field I saw your frustration when your teammates, boys interested in mud-puddles and girls twirling their hair, failed to kick, pass and score goals. Your drive and passion to win runs deep in your blood.   

Nurture your determination in all areas of your life and you will succeed at anything you put your mind to. Determination is a beautiful virtue to possess. To fully embrace it, remember that you need flexibility too. When obstacles and challenges arise, think outside the box, be flexible and work out another way to achieve your goals. I’ve already seen you use this approach with your soccer career. Whenever one door closes, you move on, train harder and seek new opportunities.   

Remember the value of determination and flexibility particularly as your finish your high school years and progress through college.  

You have so many virtues beyond determination. When I sent you to grief counseling for several months after Gramma died, the counselor gave you, what I consider to be the best compliment you’ve ever received. She said that she had never met a boy of your age (early teen) that had such a strong moral compass. Honestly, my eyes swell with tears just thinking of that. You are gifted with such a good and true heart. Don’t hide it. It is meant to shine.  

Also beware, that with such a strong moral compass, you have a tendency to be judgmental and critical. You see things in black and white, right or wrong. Remember that sometimes there are in-betweens and choices to be made when all of the outcomes have downsides. People deserve second (even third) chances. I know you understand this, because your theology teacher told me about the impassioned speech that you gave in class about giving people second chances and being supportive.  I wish I could have heard it. My heart swelled with pride when I got the call from your teacher saying what a fantastic speech you gave, one that had all of your classmates listening intently and clapping at the end. (Another sign of your leadership abilities!)  

Navigating through your final teen years and into adulthood can be a challenging time. Remain true to yourself. Be responsible for your actions. Be trustworthy. Be honest and genuine, do not exaggerate and do not be coy or deceitful.  

Become a man of honor and integrity. Above all, become a man of God.  

I am very proud of you and love you with all my heart. I always have and I always will.  

To my Daughter

An excerpt:

We come from a long line of strong women and having just turned 50, I am fully realizing the strength that was instilled in me. I can already see this strength developing in you too.   

My grandmother, Anna Nichols, my namesake, studied at Emma Willard and graduated from Vassar in 1936. She was in the first group of 25 ladies hired by IBM as system engineers. 

 My mother, Alice Lee, your namesake, was also a Vassar graduate (1964). She began her degree in mathematics, but switched to art history and architecture. Whilst most people would claim to be a ‘numbers’ or ‘word’ person, Gramma Alice, was both. You are already following in her footsteps of being both a “word” and “numbers” person. Your straight “A’s” report card reflects this!

Rely on the strong women who precede you and know that you have that same strength within you. Draw upon it as you weather storms in life and live to your potential with honor and integrity.    

Your namesake, Gramma Alice, was a trendsetter in her day. She wore chic clothes, had fashionable haircuts and was always drawn toward modern design. As a baby and toddler, I dressed you in accordance with my more traditional ways. That ended earlier than I anticipated as you developed your own unique fashion sense when you were around 5 years old. From then on, I no longer shopped for clothes for you, I shopped with you and you chose the styles and colors.      

Even as I watch you navigate middle-school, which is riddled with peer pressure to conform, I see your individual personality shining through. You have your hair styled the way you like it, not based on what your friends are doing. You have a distinct and delightful fashion sense; in fact, you have several styles to fit your different moods.  It makes me proud watching you develop and stay true to yourself with a focused clarity about your personal likes and dislikes. 

Often this type of individualistic person can be self-centered, narrow-minded and judgmental, but you are not. When you see people who are down-trodden, sad or in need, you want to act upon the compassion in your heart and make things right for them. You give food to the homeless, hugs to sad children and you listen when your friends are hurting.  

As a sensitive soul, you are both empathetic and compassionate. These are beautiful virtues, but it is important that you be cautious with them. Compassion can easily lead to enabling, which is often not in the other persons best interest. Embrace your compassion towards others, but always be sure to protect your heart.  

You are developing into a fine and honorable young lady. Let your life verse guide you: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. … If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 22-23, 25)  

My heart swells with pride and joy as I see the lovely lady that you are turning into and I have no doubt that you are being led down a special path.  

I am very proud of you and love you with all my heart. I always have and I always will.  

Memories Convey Values



As  depicted in this photo, I come from a long-line of hard-workers.   Everyone was taught to pitch in and always work hard.  My grandmother  was in the group of the first 25 ladies hired by IBM.  My mother ran her  own craft business.  Both my grandfather and father worked for the same  company for 30+ years.  My own personal lesson in the value of  perseverance came very early in my career.    

During  my college years I would return home during the summer and work for a  temporary agency as a secretary (that's what administrative assistants  were called back in the late 1980's).  At the beginning of one summer I  accepted a two-week job, temping for a company that manufactured plastic  bags.  I arrived Monday morning professionally dressed (skirt, blouse  and heels) and was greeted with a quizzical look.  They asked what I was  expecting to do, and I replied that the temp agency sent me out on  secretarial jobs.    

As  they handed me a hard-hat and steel toed shoes, they explained the  nature of this particular job.  I was there with about 10 other temps to  sort through boxes and boxes and boxes of plastic bags.  One of their  manufacturing machines had malfunctioned and roughly 1 out of 8 boxes  contained bags that were melted together.  We had to find the defective  bags and separate them for re-melting.  It was the longest, hottest  8-hour shift of my life.    

I  was furious that the temp agency had sent me on this job.  I had every  intention of calling them that evening to refuse to go back and demand a  job in line with my skill set.  When I arrived home fuming with anger,  my parents began grilling me.  Did I ask about the nature of the job?   Did I accept the 2-week position?  What did my signed paperwork say?   No, I hadn't asked about the specifics of the job; I'd assumed.  Yes, I  had verbally committed to the 2-week position.  And yikes, the paperwork  was clear.    

All  day I had been running through my mind the conversation that I would  have with the temp agency.  As my parent's advice sank in and my  arrogance subsided, I found myself having a drastically different  conversation.  I did call to express my displeasure at the nature of the  work and emphasized that I wanted secretarial positions only (in  air-conditioned offices; it was summer in Virginia!).  They were clearly  worried that I was backing out (as many temps did from this grueling  position), but I ended the conversation by saying I was going to honor  my agreement.   

For  the next 13 days, I turned up in jeans and a t-shirt and worked hard.   My diligence paid off.  The temp agency realized that I would honor my  commitments and work equally as hard and conscientiously at any  position.  For the rest of the summer, I was given fantastic positions,  better than I expected!    

Lesson learned.  Thanks Mom and Dad. 


It was 4am and I was hoping if I ignored the knocking on my door he would go away. But no, the knocking grew more emphatic, accompanied by a loudly whispered, “Are you awake?”. I knew that pretending to be asleep was no longer an option. “Yes, I’m awake now.”   

As I sleepily emerged from my bedroom, my Dad looked pleased as could be. He’d already been down to the dock and seen loads of crabs.  

Our vacation house in Colonial Beach was set next to a crab-spawning estuary. After laying their eggs, the adult crabs returned to the Potomac river right through our backyard. We discovered they were easiest to catch at night when we could shine a light into the water to see them floating past. Timing was critical as the tide had to be on the way out.  

On this occasion, the tide turned in the wee hours of the morning. So there I was on the dock in my pajamas with my dad, a large bucket and two crab nets. Within half an hour we had filled the bucket and headed back to the house. I had every intention of going straight back to bed. But again, resistance was futile. Dad was of the opinion that we should cook the crabs right away to preserve the freshness.  

In the kitchen I grabbed a pot, filled it with water and set it to boil. Seconds after we tipped the first batch of crabs into the boiling pot there was a mighty explosion! Although safe for the gas burner, the Pyrex bowl was not designed to withstand a sudden jolt of cold crabs. Dad and I found ourselves dancing amidst boiling water, shatter glass, and some very hot, angry crabs.   

I don’t know how, but we came out unscathed.   

Later that morning, Mom asked “what on earth happened in the kitchen this morning?”. She had heard the explosion and ensuing madness, but wisely decided to ignore it and get more sleep.  

Mom had an unflappable peacefulness about her.  


Throughout her childhood, Alice spent her summers on the family farm in upstate New York. One day she decided to ride one of the horses that had a reputation for being ornery and stubborn. As Alice saddled the horse, she spoke in a soothing voice and he was calm, but as soon as she mounted, his obstinacy kicked-in and he refused to follow Alice’s lead. As was typical for this wise horse when he didn’t want to be rode, he galloped to a thicket of brambles and proceeded to buck and stamp. Most riders succumbed to the horses’ tantrums, but Alice held on for dear life, refusing to go down in a patch of painful thorns and let the horse win the battle. After a few harrowing minutes the horse calmed down. Alice had won. From that day onwards Alice was able to ride him without any more trouble or poor behavior. Her determination had paid off. She relied on this virtue through her life as she faced trials and tribulations requiring a calm head and tenacity. 

What values are most important to you?