[These are reflections that I shared earlier with the Visio team at Microsoft. I’ve posted them here with minor edits to hopefully clarify some of the company jargon.]
Judy Lew joined the Visio Program Management team in the spring of 2008. We were short-staffed at the time with both the previous Group Program Manager and my lead leaving the team. Richard Wolf gathered the Visio PMs together and introduced Judy as the new GPM of the team. She was 5 months pregnant with Lila at the time, so it was clear that she would come in to get things organized for a while and then be out for several months.
Judy met individually with each of the PMs to get acquainted, and the two of us immediately bonded. I already knew Judy from her product planner days where she briefly worked with the Visio team. But in this meeting, Judy showed me why she was so well-loved by her Planning team. She wanted to create a working environment where everyone felt valued, where everyone felt challenged, and where everyone had opportunities to grow in their role. Team chemistry and morale were very important to her. In that first meeting Judy and I formed a partnership to build that working environment. It wasn’t just the two of us, but she made it feel that way to me.
During her maternity leave Judy entrusted me with mentoring some of the other Visio PMs and found another GPM to mentor me. Upon her return I became an official lead and then we set about completing and shipping Visio 2010. Judy taught me so many things about managing people, working with peers, and understanding the larger objectives of the Office organization. We talked about career development paths for the team and coaching techniques for various situations. She had so much to share from her experiences managing a much larger org.
As Visio 2013 planning began (earlier than ever before because Judy wanted to get a jump on things), I discovered first hand Judy’s obsession with data. She loved to wallow in data and consider every possibility before making a decision. She and I liked to laugh at how “blue” [www.insights.com] she was, and I was always amazed at the Excel spreadsheet she could put together to collect and analyze ever detail. While the boil-the-ocean investigations were sometimes frustrating, Judy and I constantly reminded each other of our goal – to provide an outstanding product that met our customers’ real needs.
It seemed like Judy knew everyone in the Office organization. She was the most networked person I have encountered. She pushed hard for aligning our work with the larger Office activities. Even when we had no specific involvement with another team she was out meeting with people to stay on top of what was happening. She wanted to chart a path for Visio where we could play a unique role in important Office initiatives. She told me this was one of the most exhausting things about her job, but it was necessary to do and she did it well.
Throughout Visio 2013 Judy was a strong advocate for the end user experience. She dogfooded [used test builds of] the product daily and was always sending mail or visiting people’s offices about the latest issue she found. She had bad PC karma – basically a knack for things not working right on her machine. Thanks to her our user scenarios are far more polished. We spent many hours talking about the state of the product and what we needed to do to ship with quality. As much as she tried to put on her GPM hat and talk about the need to hit our bug curves [targets for finishing on time], she never lost her passion for a great customer experience. Punting [not fixing] bugs really pained her.
Judy was a workaholic. She would go home at a normal time to be with her kids, and then she would get online again every night around 10PM. She’d work until after midnight, often five nights a week. I remember jumping online occasionally at night to get something done, and there would be half a dozen e-mails waiting for me. Then if I responded we would get into a lengthy thread back and forth. At some point Judy tried to stop sending e-mails at night because she did not want to set an expectation for the team that we all work around the clock. There were many times during the product cycle, particularly around Adds/Cuts [choosing what features we build] where Judy would take the meeting decisions from one day and have a full spreadsheet or presentation ready to go the next day. If time was short, she worked even harder to keep on schedule.
In Judy I found a partner that I enjoyed working with every day. First and foremost she cared about me as an individual. We often shared stories about our kids and parenting. She also invested herself in the team and the product, creating a great working environment but also setting a brisk pace to follow. She challenged me to do great things and even impossible things but also was a great listener and willing to accept my advice. She always made me feel like I was working with her and not for her. I looked forward to our conversations each day and enjoyed the shared sense of accomplishment as the days went by. Throughout our differences in style and opinion, we found a way to work together toward a common goal. I am grateful to have her in my life for the last 4 ½ years.
Dearest Judy. Happy Birthday! I wish I could call you and tell you in person, but I will have to do it through my prayers. I will cherish your voice in my head and remember the good times that we had. I’m sure Lee is doing something special for you right now!
It is impossible to understand how this tragedy could strike such wonderful, kind, thoughtful, giving, optimistic, genuine, generous people. Judy Lew and Lee Dirks were one of a kind.
I first met Judy in 2003, back then she was my boyfriend’s friend. It took no time for us to hit it off and soon enough she was gently offering me dating advice. Over the years, she has continued to be there for us. Somehow she always knew just the right thing to do, to send, to share at just the right time.
When I had my first daughter Judy send us a box full of parenting books that she thought we might enjoy reading. She was right! These books drastically changed how we view parenthood. I can honestly say that I am a better Mom because of her. Judy’s generosity and kindness truly knew no limits.
We last saw them on their annual camping trip. We were fortunate enough to spend the day with the entire family at the Historic Ardenwood Farm in California. I got to see first hand what an incredible family they’ve created. Their love for each other and for their daughters ran so deeply…
Judy, thank you for teaching me how to be a better person. Thank you for your advice. Thank you friendship. You will never ever be forgotten. We will do all that we can to help Esme and Lila know you and feel the love that you had for them. May you rest in peace.
Lee, it’s still so hard to accept that you won’t be bopping into my office at the iSchool or sending tweets, posts, or emails to alert me to important (okay, sometimes not so important) things, or roping me into various activities at Microsoft or in the field.
Most of all, I miss our working together on developing, writing, and presenting concerning various concepts and approaches–especially the TEDS value-added model. TEDS – Taylor, Eisenberg, Dirks, and School – is one of your legacies. You had me speak in your classes about Taylor’s original model, and then we decided to collaborate on updating and revising the model. I’ve co-authored with a number of people over the years, and it’s not always easy. However, our work together was a joy and fulfilling. The result is a robust model that really helps to explain and analyze the interaction of people, needs, values, and system processes in context. I helped a new group of students (160!) learn and use the TEDS model just this week. As with previous classes and audiences, it’s gratifying to see them experience the “aha” moment.
Lee, I think of you often. Thanks for the inspiration and again, for the joy.
Mike, thank you so much for your entry about Lee. The more I read, I wish I’D worked with him too! It hurts my heart that you miss him so much and at the same time, it is comforting that others miss him like we do. Blessings, Kay
It continues to surprise me at some level that Lee is really gone. I feel his presence on Facebook and in conversations with so many in the community. He would have been in the thick of all the exciting things happening in the data community and there would have been more discussions, more wine, more fun with him involved. I am writing this for Lila and Esme, who I never got to meet but heard so much about. Someday you may want to read this and know how special your Dad was to so many of us. I never knew Judy but I have no doubt that one wonderful person found another. Thanks for letting us share lives that were all too short.
So, today, I went to my first grief group for kids ages 4 to 6 because my daughter lost her dad 2.5 weeks ago. There was a beautiful girl named Lila there. Her amazing aunt brought her. We talked about Lee and Judy as everyone was sharing about their loved ones. As the last to leave, I looked at the photo wall. There was a photo of Lee. It clicked that this was the Lee we talked about. I was stunned. I had the pleasure of working with Lee for several years at MSFT. He was an outstanding leader and colleague. The world has lost two wonderful souls and I am so sorry for the loss for each of you. I’m holding you all in my heart and we will take special care of the girls and family in our group.
Oh my goodness, Amy – I know you were surprised. Your words about holding us in your heart and taking special care of the girls and family in your group is so sweet. Thank you so much for taking the time to post here.
Its been quite awhile since I first posted here, but the loss remains the same. I Miss you Judy and Lee and I promise to try my very best to look out for Esme and Lila. Your loss will never make sense to me. Thank you so much for bringing us into our lives.
Suzie, our family was so touched by your heartfelt post. Thank you.
It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a year. I’m sure like most of you, a day doesn’t go by without a thought to Lee & Judy. Some days it’s a happy memory, other days it’s a heartbreaking reflection. For lack of knowing of a better place, I come to this website to remember and celebrate their lives. Peace to you.
We can’t believe it either, Anne. I’m so glad you chose to share your remembrance and celebration thoughts with us.
August 28, 2013. Judy, you were very much in my mind today. I feel like you are still guiding me. Thank you.
touched by your words, Mark
Judy, Thinking of you this week. You set a high bar of excellence and commitment at work. You still inspire me to do the best I can and exceed my expectations.
So happy that you are still being inspired by our precious Judy, Gowri. Thanks for writing.
I had a mildly jarring experience yesterday that tangibly brought Lee to mind. I was connected to Lee through several social media sites. I know that many of Lee’s friends have continued to post on his Facebook page and it is a great way to remember him. However, yesterday, I happened to be sorting through my LinkedIn account and found that Lee was still listed on LinkedIn and the page did not seem to be frequented or updated. It definitely made me miss Lee again but I wondered if his family wanted to keep the page up and going as is. Here is a link to his LinkedIn page:
Bill, I’m one of Lee’s sisters and I’m so sorry to just now be responding to your post. It WOULD be jarring to unexpectedly run across something like this and I really appreciate you bringing this to our attention. There have so many details, Lee’s LinkedIn is something we had not thought to address. I’ll discuss this with family and see how we want to proceed. Again, thanks very much for taking the time to alert us to this.
Kay (Dirks) Kamas
Here’s a poem that Lee had published in the 1987 Trinity Review:
by Lee Dirks
it didn’t take
Thanks so much for thinking of sharing Lee’s poem here. We’ve seen this poem and our family loves it. We miss him and Judy so much.
Still thinking about you Lee and Judy. I used to look forward to your funny Christmas cards.
Oh me too – their Christmas cards were the BEST! This is Lee’s sister, Kay. It always warms my heart when people still post on here. Knowing that the love for Lee and Judy lives on in the world is so comforting somehow. Hope you have very happy holidays!
I hadn’t stayed in close touch with Lee or Judy so I am only now catching up on the horrible news. I remember working with each of them at Microsoft. But my best memories are of Lee making me laugh and giving me a hard time about Duke every basketball season. My heart breaks to know you are no longer with us. You both left behind amazing legacies, memories, friends, and family. God bless! xx
Summer is quickly passing by and soon school will start. We always think about you this time of year. We also say a little prayer for you any time we visit national parks. Bet you’d love celebrating the 100 year anniversary!
Hi Anne! I’m Lee’s sister, Kay. It just touches my soul when people who loved Lee and Judy still share that love and their thoughts here. Thank you SO much. Can you imagine how fired up L and J would have been about this celebration and how they would have engaged themselves and our sweet girls in it?! The girls (who are 8 and 10 now (!) and doing just amazing) were here in Houston a few weeks ago! The three of us along Aunt Lisa, one of Lee’s and my other sisters, went to see the IMax movie about the 100 yr celebration of the National Parks. We want to keep that connection alive for them for sure!
Blessings to you,
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