Vivian Lee, expert in counseling and guiding force in international social justice, dies at 62

By Andrew Myers

Vivial Lee headshot

Vivian V. Lee, EdD, an associate professor of counseling and human development at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, died May 11, 2020. Lee was a respected educator, researcher, and leader of social justice projects across globe in such disparate lands as Ghana, Tibet, Malta, and India.

Lee joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins in 2015 after a much-traveled career in which she taught at the University of Scranton, Old Dominion University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Malta prior to her tenure at Johns Hopkins. She also served for a time as a senior director at The National Office for School Counselor Advocacy, a division of The College Board, in Washington, D.C.

Vivian Victoria Lee (née Thompson) was born June 15, 1957, in the Bronx, New York. Her family relocated to Willingboro, New Jersey, when Lee was a child, and there she attended public schools. Upon graduation, Lee enrolled at Trenton State College and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in health and physical education. She then taught physical education in the Fredericksburg, Virginia, public school system.

Lee eventually entered the counseling program at the University of Virginia and earned a master’s degree in counselor education. While serving as a counselor at Louisa County High School in Mineral, Virginia, Lee began work on her doctorate at the University of Virginia. Later, after securing her doctorate, Lee joined the faculty of the University of Scranton as an assistant professor. In 2013, Lee became an associate professor at the University of Malta, living in Europe for two years before returning to the States for the role at Johns Hopkins.

Lee was an active and lifelong researcher who published and lectured frequently. Her CV lists no fewer than 21 published book chapters and numerous peer-reviewed papers focused mainly on issues of school counseling and social justice. In 2018, for instance, Lee was listed as principal investigator on a $250,000 grant from the Johns Hopkins Alliance for a Healthier World. The grant, a joint study with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, was earmarked to investigate the most effective strategies for eliminating tuberculosis in refugee populations in Tibet. Lee delivered numerous invited conference presentations and keynote addresses along the way, as well.

Likewise, Lee served in many high-ranking positions within the counseling profession, nationally and internationally. She was chair of the International Committee of the American Counseling Association and president of the Maryland Association for Counseling and Development, among other leadership roles.

Among her proudest international contributions was The Bernice-Vivian Library, which she helped raise funds for and build at the Tema Royal Preparatory School in Ghana in West Africa. The library is named in honor of Lee and her co-founder.

It was as a teacher and a mentor, however, that Lee truly excelled. She was a consummate educator, beloved by students and colleagues. Ileana Gonzales was both. She was a doctoral candidate and teaching assistant under Lee at the University of Maryland and then a colleague with her on the faculty at Johns Hopkins in recent years. To Gonzales, Lee was a force to be reckoned with: someone who could at times be demanding, but only because she saw the potential in others and wanted to make it real. Lee was also profoundly compassionate, Gonzales said.

“Calling her a ‘social justice advocate’ was a gross understatement. She lived it and wanted others to live it, too,” Gonzales recalled. “Ghana, Malta, India. Vivian was always on a plane somewhere to help others who didn’t have a voice. This is a loss on a global scale. Johns Hopkins has lost a true leader and I have lost a true friend.”

Another student, Aishwarya Nambiar, recalled Lee’s sheltering nature as both an academic adviser and as a research leader on a recent trip to Dharamshala, India. That trip was part of the grant to study tuberculosis interventions in Tibetan refugees.

“We called her ‘Mama Lee,’” Nambiar said. “She was very protective and involved as the lead researcher on that study and but also as an academic adviser. She was always checking in. She was the first to see potential in me that even I didn’t recognize. She had a vision for counseling to expand globally and my hope is we can carry that forward.”

Fellow mentee, Minjee Kim, accompanied Lee and Nambiar on the trip to Dharamshala and remembers her mentor’s deeply personal effect. “She made me feel safe, confident, and worthy. She was very passionate about social justice, empowering her students to stand up for themselves and for others. I will miss her dearly.”

Vivian Lee is survived by husband Courtland Lee, brother Billy, sisters-in-law Patty, Deidre, and Elva, brother-in-law Larry, goddaughter Laura, and numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins.

A private Mass is planned for Monday, May 18, 2020. In lieu of flowers, donations in the name of Vivian Victoria Lee may be made to the following charities: The American Cancer Society, American Indian College Fund, and Tema Royal Preparatory School in Ghana. Colleagues, students, and friends can share memories on the family’s Dignity Memorial website, or condolence cards will be collected through May 26, in the SOE Dean’s Office. Address: The Family of Vivian Lee, c/o Dean Morphew, the School of Education, 2800 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, Md. 21218.

Vivian Lee