Bridget Matheson, the city of Menlo Park's recreation program coordinator, began 2016 with a staff in mourning. Nobody could think about anything but the loss of their co-worker, Clee Webster, a Menlo Park resident who had recently been promoted to program assistant at the city's after-school program in Belle Haven.
He was about to start working there full time in January after years of part-time and summer employment, but lupus, the chronic autoimmune disease he had been battling for a decade, had other dark plans.
Clarence "Clee" Edward Webster Jr. died Dec. 23 from a strep pneumonia infection exacerbated by his struggle with lupus. He was 28. He is survived by his fiancee, Cynta Williams, and their son, Julyen, age 5.
Mr. Webster grew up in Menlo Park, where he often played basketball at the Onetta Harris Community Center, said Ms. Matheson, his former supervisor.
He later attended Eastside College Preparatory School, where he met English teacher Amy Reilly, who was a new teacher then. She taught Mr. Webster during his freshman, sophomore and junior years.
"He was very outspoken and energetic and curious," Ms. Reilly said. Over those three years they forged a friendship that lasted, she said.
Mr. Webster regularly called her on her birthday and on Mother's Day, and proudly sent her his report cards, said Ms. Williams.
Ms. Reilly "saw potential (in Clee) even when he didn't see it in himself," said Ms. Williams, his fiancee and high school sweetheart.
They grew up a block away from each other, Ms. Williams said one living on Henderson Avenue, the other on Windermere Avenue.
Then, at the end of his high school years, Mr. Webster was diagnosed with lupus.
He struggled with the disease for a decade, Ms. Williams said, including a dangerous surgery in 2010 only six weeks after their son Julyen was born. Doctors said he might not make it, but Clee surprised them with a speedy recovery from septic shock. "From then on," Ms. Williams said, "he's always known what he wanted to do."
Clee "had a passion for early childhood education," said Ms. Matheson, the recreation program coordinator.
He began working at the Belle Haven summer program in 2009, then moved on to the after-school program, too. Soon, he fell into a rigorous daily routine, said Ms. Williams, which he maintained for years. He worked from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Willow Oaks School, switched to the Belle Haven After School Program from 3:30 to 6 p.m., and then attended college classes from 6 to 10 p.m., Ms. Williams said, all while fighting a chronic disease and being a father.
Ms. Matheson said she saw Mr. Webster mature over the years. The pair worked together to launch a program called "Sky's the Limit," a youth leadership summer program for middle school students.
"He would have done great things in that program," she said. "It breaks my heart."
Sometimes, Ms. Matheson said, Clee would show concern about kids in the community who didn't have a mentor or a person to guide them.
"He was that (mentor) to a lot of kids in the community," she said.
Ms. Williams said that Mr. Webster saw himself as a role model for the youth he spent his days working with and for his own son. One of his biggest motivations to attend college, she said, was to set an example for young Julyen. She recalled that he once asked her, "How am I going to tell my son, 'You need to go to college,' if I don't go?"
That motivation drove him to complete his associate degree in early childhood education from Canada College. Later, he was accepted to Menlo College, and received a financial aid package that would enable the family to pay. In December 2015, he had just made honor roll during his first semester there. He was planning to major in business.
Recognizing that both she and her staff were struggling to simultaneously grieve and work, Ms. Matheson in January decided to talk about it.
Staff members who had worked with him said they hoped to carry on the things he stood for.
Some of those things were: "Don't give up on people. Be compassionate. And don't give up when something gets challenging," Ms. Matheson said. "We want to continue with his legacy. He's going to be remembered and never forgotten."
"He definitely was one hell of a man," Ms. Williams said.
A memorial service for him was held Jan. 11 at the Jerusalem Baptist church in Palo Alto. An online GoFundMe campaign, intended to help Ms. Williams and the Webster family cover medical expenses and service costs, had raised $21,834 as of Jan. 29. Additional funding received will go to an education fund for Julyen.
Go to tinyurl.com/webster248 for more information.