Today's post is not about a run. This is a memorial to a friend who recently passed away, Han Chun Choi. Han and Bonnie have been friends for more than 20 years, going back to their first years in Atlanta as young attorneys. They were among the first members of the Georgia chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA, the state chapter being GAPABA). I first met Han and his wife Catherine 8 or 9 years ago when Bonnie and I were dating. Han was managing partner at the Ballard Spahr law firm, a loving husband to Catherine, and proud father to three teen-age children Christopher, David, and Hannah, with the brightest of futures ahead of them. Han was a pillar in the community, not only with service and leadership with many organizations in the legal community, but also serving on the board of the Decatur Education Foundation and the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, and providing pro bono work for the International Women's House. Most recently he was the president of the Georgia chapter of the Korean American Bar Association (KABA-GA). In his last year, Han and his family partnered with the NAPABA Law Foundation to establish the Han C. Choi Scholarship Fund to support first- or second-year law students.
|Han and his children serving on Martin Luther King Day|
|Leadership by doing, stuffing envelopes for KABA even while battling cancer|
In October 2016, Bonnie and I were invited to Han and Catherine's home to celebrate their dual 50th birthdays, what they titled the "100/2" celebration. This was a wonderful party, with several dozen friends and members of their families gathering to celebrate. I remember Han and Catherine speaking of the happiness of their lives and expressing so much optimism for the future.
|Love and joy|
|and all the hope in the world.|
And then in April 2017, we learned the terrible news that Han was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. None of us had any idea that cancer cells were lurking in Han's body in the months before his first symptom of jaundice. Han immediately began a regimen of chemotherapy to try to shrink the tumor enough to attempt surgical removal, which in itself would have been a high-risk procedure. But despite everyone's best efforts, the cancer only continued to grow and spread, preventing any hope for a surgical treatment. Shortly after the New Year, Han celebrated his 52nd birthday. He continued working on good days and traveling with his family through mid-February, when his illness finally sapped too much of his energy. At that time, Han asked his friends to come to visit. Catherine generously welcomed the many friends and family that streamed through their home to share a few minutes with Han. I was grateful for the opportunity to thank Han in person for his great support when Bonnie struggled professionally, and to share with him the news that I had just been selected in the lottery to run the New York City Marathon in November, a race that he completed in 2014. Han shared some advice for the start, which I will endeavor to follow, in his memory.
|Han in the Atlanta Falcons' locker room on a tour of Mercedes-Benz Stadium,|
in advance of the fall 2017 season
|Han is wearing the poncho|
immediately after finishing the
2014 New York City marathon
Han was the paragon of health: no unhealthy habits or behavior as far as I know. He was a golfer, ran the Georgia Marathon twice, regularly competed in the Tour deCatur 5K (with the Decatur Education Foundation), and even completed a triathlon in 2011, back when I was still an overweight out-of-shape couch potato. Han was a joyful person with a genuine smile and a positive demeanor. He did "everything right". Yet cancer still came after him, and in one of its most aggressive forms. Han shed a few tears during our visit, as I did as well, knowing as I hugged him that it was really goodbye forever. Han passed away on Monday evening March 26, exactly four weeks to the last evening that we visited him.
This morning a large group of Han's friends in GAPABA and KABA completed the Lustgarten Run/Walk for Pancreatic Cancer Research, a 3-mile route on the Eastside Beltline. A few people asked me if I was going to run. But for me, today's event was not about getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. Instead it was an opportunity to share our thoughts and memories of Han, and to strengthen bonds with friends. (And I was still recovering from the marathon, not yet in shape to run, but glad that I could comfortably walk the route.) It was a beautiful cool morning, without a cloud in the sky. Before we began the walk, a young woman who had lost her grandmother and then her mother to pancreatic cancer cut a purple ribbon at the start-finish line. This was a sobering moment for us: the plan was for pancreatic cancer survivors, including Han, to cut the ribbon. But there were no survivors among us today. Not only did Han leave us five days before our walk, another survivor who was planning to join us also recently passed away, two days before Han.
|Before the start of this morning's walk|
|Ribbon-cutting to start the walk. |
When this was first planned, we had hoped that Han could join the ribbon cutting ceremony,
but it was not to be.
It was wonderful to see our large group of purple-clad walkers on the Beltline. I spent most of my time walking with Michele Hoover and Michael Ray, part of the larger circle of friends that Han had touched during his life in Atlanta. As the walk progressed, my mood began to improve, from mourning to celebrating life and enjoying the beauty of the day.
|Bonnie with a few other GAPABA participants|
Han will be missed by the large number of people that he influenced and inspired, but his legacy will live on, in his friends and family and children, in those continuing his professional and service work. And even when we're all long gone, perhaps even when his name is no longer remembered, all of the good that he gave the world in 52 short years will grow and propagate forever into the future. Rest in peace, Han Chun Choi.