A Life Too Short Leaves a Lesson and Legacy


In the military you unfortunately hear about young people dying tragically, but you never really get used to it.  That’s why I was shocked and deeply saddened when I heard this week about the passing of a former student, Richard Lin, a truly awesome young man who was serving as a Navy judge advocate (JAG).  I want to share with you the note Liz Gustafson, our Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, sent to the Duke Law community:

        Dear all, 

I’m writing to share the terribly sad news that Richard Lin, class of 2016, was killed in a car accident on Tuesday evening.  Many of you will remember Rich as our JD graduation speaker last year, and as a much-beloved member of his class.  He was very often described by his classmates as the most personally kind, generous and honorable person they’d ever met.  Rich was close to a number of students in the current graduating class and we expect his loss is weighing heavily on some of them.  At this point, we have few details about Rich’s accident, and are working on gathering contact information for his family, including his wife.  

For those of you who didn’t know Rich, included here is the bio that was part of our hooding ceremony program last year:

Richard Lin is from the New Jersey shore and graduated from Rutgers University with a bachelor’s degree in Physics.  He served as a federal law enforcement officer in Washington D.C. before law school.  At Duke, he worked on the Veteran’s Disability Assistance Project and the Duke Law and Technology Review, and mentored for the Asian Law Students Association and the Women Law Students Association.  

After graduation, Rich joined the Navy, as a lieutenant in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, assigned to Region Legal Service Southwest in San Diego.  Rich’s speech from the hooding ceremony last year is available here and some quotes from his classmates on his Justin Miller Award for Integrity here.    

I’m sorry to share this very sad news.  We will pass along information for sharing condolences as soon as we have it.  Best,  Liz

LTJG Lin being presented the George T. Smith Military Leadership Award by VADM Crawford and CAPT Savageaux

Another one of Rich’s accomplishments occurred last November when he completed the Navy’s Officer Development School and was presented the George T. Smith Military Leadership Award.  In an email sharing this news with me he said with his typical humility that: “I could not have done it without both the support of my shipmates and the great examples I’ve had in my education and career….I am living the American dream, but only because people around me have blazed a great trail for me to follow.” 

That was Rich Lin, always wanting to praise others and not himself (like Dean Gustafson, I urge you to watch his speech from last year found here).  He was one of those very rare individuals who was indefatigably optimistic, unapologetically patriotic, and authentically dedicated to making the world a better place.  It was impossible not to like him, and everyone – literally “everyone” – did.  And he was among the first to volunteer to help with the LENS conference and anything else he could do for others.  He will be terribly missed.

Military lawyering was a perfect fit for him, and I think he would be proud to know that this year there are three Duke Law students following his footsteps into Navy JAG – and another to Army JAG.

As heartbreaking as his death is, I am so grateful I had a chance to know him, even if it was for far too short a time. How can we honor the memory of this young American who accomplished so much and had so much promise?  We can strive to live life every day with purpose, teamwork, and honor, all the while taking time to really connect with people in our path – like Rich did.


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