Community mourns after Pacheco High principal dies after short battle with cancer

cpride@losbanosenterpriseNovember 29, 2013 

Brett Lee, Pacheco High School’s first principal, died of cancer Tuesday. He was 46.

“My heart goes out to the Lee family and the community,” said Steve Tietjen, Los Banos Unified School District superintendent.

Lee took medical leave in January, never publicly stating what form of cancer he was battling.

An impromptu candlelight vigil was held Tuesday in front of the Pacheco High gym, recently renamed in Lee’s honor. Interim Principal Grace Taylor said students, teachers, parents and staff gathered to say their goodbyes and remember Lee.

Taylor said she lost a colleague and a friend.

“I am incredibly sad. He is my mentor and friend. I am honored to have known and worked with such a great man,” she said in an email.

Lee was a native of Denver and attended Brigham Young University and the University of Utah. He was named Pacheco High’s principal in 2009 and assisted in choosing the school’s colors and mascot. Lee also spent four years as an assistant/vice principal at Los Banos High School.

Monica Munoz, a graduate of Los Banos High, said Lee unified the two schools.

“Brett brought us together, (Los Banos) Tigers and (Pacheco) Panthers, and let’s always remember we are one community,” she said.

After Lee announced he was ill, the phrases Panther Strong and Brett Strong became commonplace on the Pacheco campus. They were repeated often at the Nov. 12 dedication ceremony of the Brett L. Lee gym. On Wednesday, Tietjen repeated a statement he made at the ceremony.

“He was beloved because he had a heart for all students, that’s what people are responding to,” Tietjen said.

On Nov. 18, Taylor and Tietjen attended the California League of High Schools Educator of the Year Banquet, where Lee was honored for his commitment to education.

Tietjen said Taylor will remain interim principal at Pacheco High at least until the school board meets in December and a decision is made on how to proceed.

Lee’s widow, Sue, issued a statement thanking the community.

“I am honored and grateful for the outpouring of love and support from this beautiful community. I love you all for loving Brett.” she said.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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