Fred Piegonski, Executive Assistant to the President  
               Los Angeles City College, 855 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029 
                           (323) 953-4000  ext. 2243                            

                      For Immediate Release:  October 23, 2006

LACC Student Chronicles How She Overcame Personal Tragedy

Photo:  LACC English Professor Joe Ryan and LACC student and author Lisa Lee

LACC English Professor Joe Ryan and LACC student and author Lisa Lee

Book Signing for her Memoir “The Rich Boy Stands There Always”
at LACC Thursday, Oct. 26

Lisa Lee’s son died unexpectedly at 18.  It was a traumatic event for the relatively young mother.  He was her only child and she had raised him by herself and devoted her life to him.  And now he was gone.  In an instant.  How would she cope with this loss?

The story of Ms. Lee and her son Paul is recounted in her recently published book, “The Rich Boy Stands There Always,” a memoir she was encouraged to write with the active support of Joe Ryan, her English teacher at LA City College.  The book is being used in Mr. Ryan’s English classes as a reading text.  There will be a book signing and reception for the author at 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 26, in LACC’s Da Vinci Hall art gallery, at 855 N. Vermont Ave. in Hollywood.

Ms. Lee’s story starts in Pusan, Korea, where she grew up.  Her husband died in a car accident in 1974 before her son was born.  Because of the strong stigma against “unwed women,” she immigrated with her son to the United States.  She struggled to support herself with many low-level jobs, working long hours in a restaurant kitchen and on weekends as a painter, to support herself and her son in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles.   Eventually she saved enough money to buy a small apartment building and over the years she found financial success.

Photo:  Paul Lee

As an adolescent, her son Paul was beginning to make a name for himself.  In acts of unusual selflessness, the young man saved up his allowance money to buy food and blankets for the local homeless, garnering him the nickname, the boy Santa Claus of Koreatown.  He eventually reached college age and was prepared to go to UC Santa Barbara in 1992.  But first he went off to a summer program in Korean studies at Seoul University in Korea.  There, in a dormitory, preparing food for his friends, a faulty fuse box caused an explosion and he was electrocuted.

In her book, Ms. Lee chronicles how she struggled back from the devastation of her loss. Filled with inspiring stories, it depicts how she went from thoughts of suicide to an overwhelming passion for life.

Among her many pursuits, she went on to become a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Houston, Florida, Mexico, and Korea.  She formed a support group for grieving parents of children who died young, and became its first president.  She has endowed a scholarship for students at LACC.  She went on to become a writer, artist, and photographer, and has written seven books, this being her seventh.  She studied art at LA City College and she holds a BFA in visual communications from the American Intercontinental University, from which she graduated in 2006.  She also studied at AIU London.  An exhibit of her photography from her London sojourn will be on display at Thursday’s book signing.  Retired since 1999, she is now a resident of the Hancock Park area.

She began to take Mr. Ryan’s English class in 2002.  As the result of a writing assignment, Mr. Ryan learned of a memoir she had written in Korean in the 90s.  He encouraged her to rewrite her memoir in English.  And so began a fruitful journey of several years in which Mr. Ryan served as her mentor and editor, encouraging her to complete her story of tragedy and redemption.  Published in 2006, Mr. Ryan has used the book in his English 28 class as one of the reading texts. 

“Without him I could not have published this book,” said Ms. Lee of Mr. Ryan.

“My involvement was more like a coach,” said Mr. Ryan. “She worked on it, doing maybe 10 to12 drafts.  Her English skills were improving, and I felt she could tackle it.”

“It was difficult for me to write it,” said Ms. Lee. “I often cried as I recalled my memories and struggled with my English.  But I am very pleased that I have been able to share my story with other students at LACC.”

Mr. Ryan chose her book for his classes for three reasons, he said.  “It’s an immigrant’s story of how Lisa made a life for herself in a new world.  Second, it shows how she triumphed over adversity and transcended her tragedy, and third, it is an LACC story as she was and continues to be a student here.  My students’ reactions to the book have been overwhelmingly positive.”

“She’s not your typical person,” said Mr. Ryan.  “Something happened in her life that made her special.  The death of her son profoundly changed her.  Now she has an amazing attitude.  Everyone is touched by her.  What predominates in her life now is real happiness. And meeting her has been an inspiration.”



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