Caitlin Lee, born May 29th, 1987, a New York native, passed away unexpectedly on February 13th, 2021. She was a friend to many in the reef aquarium community, who are collectively stunned by her untimely passing.
Within the aquarium community, Caitlin is perhaps best known in the marine aquarium world for her time spent as a Sr. Blogger for Reefs.com in 2014 and 2015. She started her own wider-ranging blog, Reef Musings, in 2014, and ran it through 2018. Caitlin also worked with Quality Marine as a content producer from 2015 through 2018. In late 2020, she once again returned to involvement in the aquarium industry, having begun a relationship with Marc Levenson of Melev’s Reef and Reef Addicts. Caitlin had recently started joining Marc on the company’s livestreams discussing various reef-aquarium-centric topics.
Friends and family remember her as a passionate person with great attention to detail. She loved the ocean and the life that dwells within. Outside of the marine aquarium world, Caitlin enjoyed the culinary arts, having trained at the Culinary of Academy of Long Island. Caitlin also shared deep affection for canines, and worked as a dog trainer. She is survived by her beloved Jack (short for Jackie).
With an eye for beauty and aesthetics, Caitlin not so publicly exercised her artistic talents to express her love for aquatic life. These are just a few examples that were shared privately in conversations over the years with CORAL editor Matt Pedersen:
Caitlin shared the privilege of confidence with many friends and was never hesitant to share comfort and support with even casual acquaintances, drawing from her own life experiences. She faced challenges with optimism and a wicked sense of humor. Ultimately, the consensus may well be that the best was yet to come for Caitlin, and her friends in the aquarium realm now mourn that we will never see that potential realized.
Caitlin’s sister Meghan has organized a fundraiser to help honor Caitlin’s wishes to be laid to rest as part of an Eternal Reef. In an update, Meghan wrote, “any funds we receive that exceed the cost of putting you to rest in your dream location will be donated to the charities you held dear. From Caitlin’s family thank you all for being here to remind us of her light while everything seems so dark.”
Many learned of Caitin’s passing through a heartfelt message from Marc Levenson.
“I have devastating news to share with you. On Saturday night, Caitlin Lee died.
“Caitlin and I became online friends in 2012 and met in person for the first time at MACNA 2014. We instantly felt a strong connection, and our friendship grew more and more. We spoke daily on the phone for many years, as she would recount her day with me, or chat about nothing. We became each other’s person. No matter what she was going through, I was there to listen and support her. About a year and a half ago, our feelings grew for each other more than ever. She was scared of risk-taking our solid friendship to the next level, but we talked it out. Last fall, she moved from her beloved New York to join me in Texas, and she made my house her home. Our home. Every day she added her little touches, making it warmer, prettier, full of life. We talked constantly about what we wanted to accomplish. She jumped into everything and got immersed in my business, my tanks, the house, and the garden. We loved each other deeply, saying so to each other every day.
“She loved Jack immensely, spoiling her rotten like a good mom. She loved dogs and other animals. She put out food daily for the ‘Skippies’ (the squirrels actually skip!) and loved seeing more and more birds come to partake of the choice menu she regularly provided. She cared deeply about people, how she presented herself and was an excellent communicator. She never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings.
“Her last public appearance was on Saturday’s livestream on YouTube where we chatted about fish and coral for about an hour. I know I’ll be rewatching it over and over.
“We kept our relationship private for the most part. It was nicer that way, but it wasn’t a secret. Every week, we dressed up and had date night somewhere new.
“Being a perfectionist, she would thrust herself into any idea and wanted it to be great. Decorating/drawing on the chalkboard, painting with Jack, designing pretty invoices, thoroughly cleaning an aquarium, training Jackie to do new tricks, cooking and enhancing the meal with ideas that made it taste better, organizing things (even bookkeeping); I loved this about her.
“She loved to google anything she was thinking about. She wanted answers, or to prove she was right.
She loved sushi immensely and ate it frequently.
She loved crime drama, Harry Potter, The Office, Friends, Beauty & The Beast, and a variety of other tv shows & movies.
She was a great gift giver.
I loved her smile.
She felt things passionately and got excited easily.
She loved her family and spoke with her mom daily.
We were going to get her her own aquarium so she could pick out her own pretty fish.
We were going to finish painting the house.
We were going to make the garden more inviting and comfy, and enjoy it with Jack.
We were going to get another dog for Jack to play with.
We were going to make our home as pretty as possible and be content, together.
We were going to get her a passport to travel once it was possible again.
We were going to spend the rest of our lives together.
I will miss you forever Caitlin. I loved you too hard. I wanted you for 40 more years. It will never be the same without you, and you will never be forgotten.”
Jessica Pickering, a close friend of Levenson, shared in this profound loss.
“Caitlin was only 33 years old and the love of my best friend Marc’s life. We had known each other for years. She was the kind of person that was magnetic. People wanted to be around her. She was smart and creative and kind. I envied her ability to draw and even took some decorating tips from her apartments over the years to include in my dive shop in Maui. Caitlin made my friend the happiest I’ve ever seen him in 15 years.
“My heart is broken for you, Marc. You loved her so much and she was taken from you so soon. I know that she loved you to pieces as well. She would always send me photos of you with Jack saying how much Jack loved you. Hug and squeeze that dog and share your grief. Call your friends, we love you and are here for you. Caitlin, Rest In Peace. Life just isn’t fair.”
Such sentiments were well known among friends who knew both Caitlin and Marc, including Marc Tetreault who wrote, “Marc, just in case you haven’t read this a hundred times already in the last 2 days. As long as I knew Caitlin, I knew her as someone searching, someone with such a kind heart in need of a ‘forever home’ to let that blossom. That happened this past year, you happened. I am happy to have had her as a friend, I’m happy to have you as a friend and I loved seeing you two so happy!”
Friends remembered Caitlin as going above and beyond to help those she could. Davana Bristol Grabel shared some examples of Caitlin’s supportive personality to those she worked with the reef-keeping community. “I took over Caitlin’s job at Reefs.com about 7 years ago. It was the first proper job I’d had after years of being a homeschooling mom, and I felt so overwhelmed and underqualified. Even with everything [Caitlin] had going on with her life at the time, she always responded to my messages and problems and helped me figure out what I was doing. I’d never used WordPress before and had a huge learning curve. She was always so gracious, never made me feel stupid or like a bother. And a couple of years ago, while I was deep in the worst time of my entire life, she reached out to me and offered to be my ghostwriter/ghosteditor until I could work consistently again. She understood what it was like to go through horrible things; it made her kinder and more compassionate when it would have made most people angry and bitter. I was really, really looking forward to seeing her again at conferences and shows. She was so fun and so smart.”
The Women In Reefing collaborative released a tribute and remembrance of Caitlin May 29th, 2021, you can watch it here.
We invite you to share your photos, stories, and memories of Caitlin Lee below. Additional thoughts and memories are also being shared at Reefs.com, where Caitlin got her start as a marine aquarium blogger.