Remembering a Fearless Friend
It might seem unusual to see both “eye surgeon” and “entrepreneur” as occupations held by the same person. But then, the late Lee T. Nordan, A68, A18P, was an uncommon doctor.
An acclaimed ophthalmologist noted for advancing corneal transplant and cataract surgery, he was also CEO of Eye Therapies, a company he cofounded to develop groundbreaking medications and treatments. “Ophthalmology offered me just the right combination of interaction with patients, surgery, and opportunities for product innovation,” he said in 2011. “The opportunities to combine new technologies in the surgical and biological arenas in order to improve eye care are breathtaking.”
Sadly, Lee Nordan was stricken with glioblastoma, a brain tumor, and died in 2015—just as many of his novel ideas were gaining ground. John Bello, A68, A13P, trustee, was among the many friends and colleagues stunned by his passing. “Lee was a great friend,” Bello said. “We laughed together, learned from each other, and had business success together. Lee was a founding investor in SoBe, the beverage company that I cofounded. I admired him greatly—he was tenacious, loyal, and a real visionary. He was always fearless and straightforward, and he had an uncanny capacity for understanding human nature.”
To ensure his friend’s Tufts legacy would live on, Bello, his wife Nancy, J69, A13P, and Lee’s wife Helen, A18P, came together to establish the Lee Nordan Memorial Scholarship Fund in the School of Arts and Sciences. The endowed scholarship gives preference to a member of Delta Upsilon, or another Greek organization at Tufts, who is pursuing a premed course of study. “Lee and I found our footing at Tufts at Delta Upsilon—it was the foundation of our friendship,” Bello said. “And the medical school track criterion is self-evident: pursuing a future in medicine requires smarts, perseverance, dedication, and resources. It seems logical to make this annual award to a student who has chosen the same career path as Lee, and to help them get their start in medicine.”
The Bellos and Helen seeded the new fund with $125,000 and then drew on other natural connections to Lee: the Greek life community, his class’s milestone 50th reunion in 2018, and the launch of an innovative eye drop product called Lumify that Lee and his colleagues developed. Overwhelming support from the Class of 1968, and from Lee’s partners, friends, and investors, pushed the endowed scholarship fund up to $300,000, Bello said. “Helen, Nancy, and I are deeply grateful for the strong show of solidarity. We plan to build on the endowment into the future.”
“I can’t say I was surprised, but I was delighted,” Helen said. “When I learned we had made our goal, I looked up and said, ‘we did it!’ I am sure Lee was smiling down and guiding us every step of the way.”
The Nordans are a Tufts family. Helen and Lee’s son, Taylor, graduated from the university in 2018 and has plans to attend medical school at Tufts this year. Lee’s brother Josh graduated in 1971. Helen is proud to be a Jumbo too—she never missed a Parents and Family Weekend and now champions the university from her home in Southern California. She is pleased that her husband is remembered with a gift that will help future Jumbos.
“It feels like you are making a difference in somebody else’s life and the fact that people are honoring his life means a great deal to me and to my family,” she said. “You can’t put a dollar sign on that value. You cannot explain what your heart feels and what this scholarship means to us.”
New Nordan Scholar
The first recipient of the Lee Nordan Memorial Scholarship, James Patti, A19, of Newton, Massachusetts, shares Lee Nordan’s passion for science, emerging ideas, and new medical technologies.
A senior studying biology and biotechnology, as well as a talented baseball player and proud member of Delta Upsilon, Patti balances the demands of premed studies and varsity athletics with an eclectic mix of extracurriculars: volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters, writing for Breakthrough: Tufts Undergraduate Research Journal, and participating in both the Tufts Electric Racing Team and the Synthetic Biology Club. He’s also been a student researcher in the biology department’s Freudenreich Lab, where Professor Catherine Freudenreich explores the role of DNA mutations in human genetic disease.
Patti, who played catcher for several seasons for Tufts, traces his interest in medicine to mishaps on the playing field going back to elementary school. “I have broken most of my fingers in my hand multiple times,” he said. In time, those injuries also piqued his interest in surgery, an interest that only grew after a summer internship with a pancreatic oncologist.
His experience at Tufts, Patti said, has made him realize he can help others heal as a surgeon. The scholarship helps him get even closer to achieving that dream. “I am so grateful for this support as I wrap up my Tufts years and set my sights on becoming a doctor,” he said.