BYU Law 50th Anniversary: Celebrating the Life and Example of Rex E. Lee

By Michael Cazanave October 12, 2023

BYU Law kicked off its 50th Anniversary celebration with Professor Thomas R. Lee and Janet Lee Chamberlain—son and wife of BYU Law’s first dean, Rex. E. Lee—sharing memories from the founding of the Law School and Lee’s tenure as dean, as Solicitor General of the United States, and as president of Brigham Young University. Chamberlain recalled Lee’s surprise as he was elevated from the search committee to being asked to serve as dean, observing that Lee was then a young lawyer and adjunct law professor at the University of Arizona. “He wasn’t much older than some of the law students,” she remembers, yet he successfully recruited faculty and students to an unaccredited law school. “He was so engaging. People wanted to be where he was.”

Chamberlain attributes Lee’s success as dean, advocate, parent, and friend to his complete engagement in “whatever he was doing—he was focused on the present.” Lee is remembered for his gusto and for his genuine excitement about others’ accomplishments and talents, whether a colleague’s intellect or his daughter’s cheerleading moves. Professor Thomas Lee expressed his admiration for his father’s authenticity and integrity and shared excerpts from Lee’s last address to BYU students in 1995 in which Lee emphasized the importance of ethics and “the distinction between what you have a right to do and what is the right thing to do.” Above all, Lee was committed to the eternal truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ and he admonished students that these are truths more important than anything learned in law school.