I woke up this morning, opened Twitter and learned that San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, 65, passed away overnight. It was a shock, not only because he was relatively young, but also because I knew the Mayor a bit. We’re both alumni of Bowdoin College—he’s class of ’74, I’m class of ‘81—and we’d met a few times over the years. In 2013, I was asked to profile him for a cover story in the Bowdoin College Alumni Magazine.
Lee was a thoughtful guy who didn’t so much make crowds go wild as much as he led by quiet example. He had a tremendous following in the tech community led by godfather VC Ron Conway. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo (my old boss) appeared, along with other luminaries in this “Too Legit Too Quit” campaign video—starring MC Hammer!—from 2011.
While Silicon Valley was always home to the tech industry of course, Lee helped bring tech companies like Salesforce, Twitter and Square to San Francisco proper. Though some criticized him for not fully addressing the homelessness problem in the city and its runaway housing costs, most citizens of the City by the Bay have fond memories of Ed Lee and will miss him. As will I.
Lee, the first Asian-American mayor of a major city has an unusual biography, which you can read about in my profile, which begins below:
“Some five hundred volunteers at a help-the-homeless day in San Francisco line the bleachers of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. They’re listening to the mayor of their city, Edwin Mah Lee give a speech, and they’re absolutely rapt — which is a bit surprising because Lee’s remarks seem to be perfunctory. In a speaking style about as fiery as Bob Newhart’s, the mayor talks about the need for compassion and equality, and also about jobs and growth. Pretty standard stuff.
And neither does Ed Lee cut a particularly impressive figure. He’s around five feet, five inches with medium length silvery hair, and sports a non-descript suit. He has a bit of a paunch from eating too much of homemade casseroles like his “No-longer secret Poongaloong.” (See recipe here.) His trademark mustache is restrained. As for his glasses, well maybe they were stylish when he was back at Bowdoin. Maybe. And yet, reflected in his eyes are five hundred faces hanging on every word.
Why is that?
To answer that question you have to understand how contemporary American history and a remarkable personal story brought this man and this city together.”