Elizabeth Gee was just 46 when breast cancer killed her. She left behind an adopted teenage daughter as well as a grieving husband, who had barely been Ohio State's president for a year when she passed 22 years ago this December.
Elwood Gordon Gee and Elizabeth had been married 22 years earlier in Utah. They've now been apart as long as they were together.
The Gees had each other through college, law school and his rapid ascent into academia that saw him become West Virginia University's president at the age of 37, Colorado's at 41 and Ohio State's at 46. Suddenly, he was a young widower in Columbus, a town he barely knew.
And the town overwhelmed him with comfort during the most challenging time of his life. It rallied around Gee in 1991 and quickly calibrated his unique character with its idiosyncratic culture through the unwanted vehicle of his own personal tragedy. Elizabeth quickly became everyone's shared loss.
Gee was forever changed by this reception. Not just by losing his wife, but by Ohio State's impact on him during that difficult time. It shaped the way he still carries himself today when attending to the affairs of advancing his beloved institution.