He had no way of knowing the profound impact his words would have just a little more than six months later. Josh, along with three of his fellow student athletes from the University of South Carolina Upstate, was killed in a single car crash on October 11.
Laurie and Johnny Lee, Josh’s parents, feel his absence every day in every fiber of their being.
The couple established the Josh Lee Memorial Scholarship Fund to honor their son and to pay it forward for future track and field student athletes.
“Josh loved USC Upstate and he was passionate about his teammates, professors, classmates and administrative staff,” said Laurie, who graduated from the University in 2004. “This is our way of honoring him.”
According to Bea Walters Smith, director of development and foundation scholarships, said the students eligible to receive the scholarship must meet the following criteria: be a member of cross country or track team, have a minimum 3.0 GPA and completed 30 credit hours at USC Upstate. “If award recipients maintain good standing on the team and 3.0+ GPA, the scholarship will be renewable for three years.”
The Lees have been overwhelmed by the tremendous outpouring of support they have received since their son’s death. It has helped them through some of their darkest hours.
Laurie shared, “Spartanburg has stepped up for such a tragedy to happen. We can’t thank this community enough. We have received calls, cards and letters from all over the country. We even received a card from a professional soccer player who met Josh once when he was working at White’s Exxon. They talked about the World Cup and she just remembered him.”
“We knew we had a lot of friends in this community but never did we imagine that we would have this kind of support,” added Johnny. “It has helped to know that we are really loved and thought of in the community. It helps a lot to know that people are praying for us.”
It’s not just friends who are praying for the Lee family. “Total strangers have reached out to us. Some just want to talk. It has really helped to talk to other mothers who have lost their children. My co-workers are hurting too and are very supportive. We can just pick up the phone and know that we have someone there in a minute if we need them. We have received prayer blankets from churches, crosses that have been prayed over, beautiful poems. We are not alone,” said Laurie.
Junie White, owner of White’s Pine Street Exxon and contributor to the Josh Lee Memorial Scholarship Fund, said that Josh was like a grandson to him. “Johnny has worked for me for 35 years so I knew Josh from the day he was born until the day he died. He was a fine young man and there is nothing more appropriate that we could do to honor his legacy. I hope it grows over the years and helps many students.”
Johnny recalled Josh would go out of his way to help friends and strangers so he thinks it is only fitting to have a scholarship that will help other students. “Josh always encouraged everyone to ‘just finish the race.’ He always meant to give 100% in everything you do whether it is in a race, a paper, a test or a job. It didn’t matter to Josh if you finished first of last, just as long as you gave all you had. That’s what we want the recipients of his scholarship to do,” said Johnny.
Josh was known for his infectious laughter and ability to make a friend out of a stranger but Johnny said his son would be humbled by the number of contributions given in his memory. “He definitely would not want a big fuss. He would not say much; he would just stand back and smile.”
While the Lee family hopes to help future USC Upstate students with this scholarship, they hope everyone benefits from the overall lesson.
“The loss of Josh, James, Sarah and Mills lives has brought this community together in ways I have never seen,” said Laurie. “It has brought compassion, kindness and faith and I hope it has taught the kids an important lesson and that is you are not promised another day. You should live every day to the fullest.”
To make a gift to the Josh Lee Memorial Scholarship Fund, mail a check to the USC Upstate Foundation, 800 University Way, Spartanburg, SC 29303 or contact Bea Walters Smith, director of development and foundation scholarships, at (864) 503-5235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.