Friday, June 27, 2014

Remembering Max Leonard by Dr. Leo D. Leonard

                One of my earliest memories is of my Uncle Max. We were living at 1773 Michigan Avenue in Salt Lake City. I remember my father, Leo Bradford Leonard, throwing me up in the air and then catching me.  I remember this was not the first time my father had played that game of throwing me above his head then catching me on the way down.  Each time he threw me, I was terrified and filled with rage.  Oh, how I hated that game!

                This particular day, Grandmother and Grandfather Leonard were visiting from Price, Utah.  They came into the front room, followed by Uncle Max.  Zoe Ellen told my father to stop throwing me.  Max walked over and caught me on the way down from one of my father’s tosses, held me in his arms and settled me down.  I think that must have been the time when Max became my favorite Uncle.

                Max’s big hug and soft words were most comforting.  During my visit with Max in December of 2002 in Palm Desert, he confirmed that the event had indeed happened, so it wasn’t my imagination.  We left our home in Michigan Avenue in 1940 to move to Fort Ord, CA; so it was either in 1940 or late 1939 that this event had taken place.

                In late 1943, my mother, Florence Robbins Leonard and my brother, Philip Merrill Leonard and I, went to live with Grandmother and Grandfather Leonard in Price.  My father was at the time in transit to North Africa as part of the invasion forces ultimately headed for Italy in the Second World War.  While we lived in Price, it was fascinating to see the respect and awe in which Grandmother Leonard held Max.  While she could get angry with him and quite demanding at times, she nevertheless admired his brilliance and maturity. 

                Grandmother Zoe also had a special role with him and that was of the “enforcer”.  I often think of Max in that way when remembering those years.  Cash was very scarce in those years in Price.  I used to save all my pennies for Uncle Piggly Wiggly books.  I seldom saved enough to purchase a book.  Max often made up the difference so that I could walk uptown to Price Trading to purchase my treasured book.

                I also remember those evenings in Price where the whole family would sit around the big dining room table reading newspapers or V-Mail letters from my father or Uncle Jack who were serving in the armed forces overseas. (Jack was in the Navy in the Pacific) Later in the evening, Bob or Max would take us upstairs to one of the bedrooms where they regaled us with very scary ghost stories, in an effort to settle us down for the night and have a “restful” sleep.  Many was the night we were sure that pirates, dragons, or assorted demons were lurking just outside those windows-thanks to those stories.

                In 1947 and 1948, Max was at the University of Utah and working in a gas station with an attached repair garage where he had keys to many cars.  What a thrill to have Max arrive unannounced at our home at 323 “E” Street in Salt Lake to give Phil and I a ride.  Oh! How we loved to get Max to speed up Emigration Canyon and down Parleys.  Even racing along 11th Avenue by the cemetery was a very big deal.  Max usually had a convertible or a new big car he had borrowed from the garage, such as a Buick.  I remember especially a big yellow 1947 Roadmaster.  All the neighbor kids begged for a ride.  Sometimes he would take them for a short ride, but no fast driving while they were aboard. The kids thought I was making up Max’s racing up the Canyon.  After I told Max that my honesty was in question, he took my neighborhood friends (Alan Johnson and Phil Tanner) on the ride of their lives.  After that, Max was the neighborhood hero…or at least one of them!

                Alan Johnson’s big brother, Walt, was a sub on the 1947 University of Utah NIT Basketball Champs and a good friend of Max’s.  Walt was the other hero.  Max usually visited Walt when he stopped by our house.  Walt lived next door to us on E street in Salt Lake.  Walt and Max often captained touch football teams made up of neighborhood kids.  What great times we had; Max threw a mean forward pass.  Our little bunch of guys felt we knew two of the biggest heroes in the world.

                Walt and Max also did some dating together.  Walt told me that Max was very popular with the coeds. (Girls) 

                Max was a student body officer at the University of Utah.  Max was also the first of our Leonard family to graduate from the U.  Utah was the NCAA basketball champ in 1944, so this era was when the University of Utah was tops in the country, especially if you were a young boy growing up in Salt Lake.  Knowing big shot “U” guys like Max and Walt gave me and my buddies bragging rights for a couple of years.

                Max cemented his status by having four or five of us gather around our piano while he played his first eight measures of Chopin’s The Revolutionary Etude.  He would always stop and say he couldn’t go on.  The reasons always varied.  Either his hands were sore or he needed the score or the piano might break into pieces.  The latter he said with a chuckle.  I can verify that the piano shook when he played.  After those few measures of the Etude, he would play a number of lighter pieces to keep us entertained.  I was determined to be like him when I grew up.  I am afraid no one ever was.  As late as December of 2002, I still loved singing with his wife, Jean, while Max played the piano.

                The years rolled along.  Max had many adventures.  He finally took a position with the Department of Defense Schools in Europe: first in England than in Germany.  There was the marriage to Jean and then the birth of their two boys, Mike and Mark.  Now it is 1959.  Max is back studying for his Master’s degree.  Just east of the present Rice Eccles Stadium were some old Army buildings that had been converted to student housing.  Max spent several summers in these “hot boxes”.  I wondered how that little family survived the heat.  When I was at the University of Utah and a student body officer myself, I wondered more than once if I could get through school as Max had done.  Work, heat-nothing stopped him!  In my mind he was always my family role model.

                Having been able to visit Max and Jean over two summers while they lived in that horribly hot and cramped student housing, I still felt it was my good fortune to do so.  Max returned to Europe and reported my progress to my father in Zurich.  Max was always my advocate.  He prevailed upon Dad (Leo Bradford Leonard) to send me some money to help me.  This was at a time that money was critical to my being able to eat during that particular Fall Term.

                In the late 1960’s and every few years thereafter until Max retired, my wife, Marilynn and I visited Max and Jean in Germany.  What times we had!  I remember well those high speed bread (brotchen) runs to Alsace Lorraine.  Cheese and wine were also included in the grocery list.  Gentle visits were made to the Taunus Mountains, Konigstein, the Rhine, the Odenwald, Freiburg, the Swartzwald, and longer runs to Vienna, Chiemsee, Berchtesgarden, and Garmisch.  Max and Jean, Marilynn and I even did 9 countries in 7 days.
                Let me recount how European tours were conducted with Max as tour guide.  While driving an autobahn, we were instructed to look quickly right or left and notice a particular sight-such as Frankenstein’s Castle.  Max would then relate the necessary history of the site.  Entering the town, Max would ponder out loud the value of this or that site.  Eliminating a number of sites, he would state why in as few words as possible.  This elimination was final- unless Jean just insisted, or whatever word is appropriate to persuade Max to reconsider his list.

                The sightseeing might go like this: MAX:  “okay, I’m going to let you all get out of the car and go into that old church.  Now on the right, as you go in the door of the Church, is a 12th century mural of the devil in the Garden of Eden.  It is one of the 3 best in Germany, probably even in Europe.  There also are some fine wood carvings, but these are not as good as the ones in Breisach.  Okay, you have 3 minutes.”
JEAN:  “Now, Max, we can’t even walk over to that Church and back in 3 minutes.  We need at least 10 minutes.”

MAX:   “Jean, I am not waiting all day while you look around.  We have a long way to go and I want some time to rest.  Five minutes- then I’m leaving.”

JEAN:  “Alright.  We will hurry.”

FINALE:  Time rolls by, and 15 minutes later we return to the car.  Max asks from his seat behind the wheel, “What kept you?!” Jean would happily respond by telling Max about the lovely people we met, Jean being a master deflection.  Being a curious fellow, Max became quickly interested in her conversation.  And we did meet the loveliest people!  As the conversation moved along, Max would forget all about our being late, and then we would be off to another site where the process would be repeated with variations. 

                Sometimes on these European visits, Max would get out of the car, and we would spend a very long time visiting.  Max and Jean did know all the spots.  As proof, one night we wanted a dinner, my treat.  Up the Rhine River we would go (Oestrichwinkel, Rudesheim, Lorch, and Kaub) and we stopped at several riverside restaurants. Each time, Max said “No, the price is too high and I know the quality of the meal.” Finally, in exasperation, he loaded us all in the car, and we drove many kilometers to the Odenwald to a small inn, I think at Lindenfels, where we had the most memorable feast in a non tourist inn.  Undoubtedly, Marilynn and I may have set U.S. German relations back when we ordered “leitungswasser” which is just “tap-water” to drink.

                On another trip, Max took me to the Berghof, Adolph Hitler’s home in Ober Salzburg.  The place was partly destroyed, but the porch was still there.  We stood there as Hitler once did, surveying the beauty of Ober Salzburg as well as the burned out shell of the house.  This is where Hitler stayed, rather than at the Eaglenest.  The Eaglenest is now open to the public.  At the time of our visit, people would tell you that the Berghof was “totally destroyed.”  Max knew better.  My dad had shown Max the home years before.  Max and I even visited some old bunkers in the “SS barracks” on that trip.

                Fortunately for me, European history was my interest, so Max and I could have discussions on events from Agincourt to Waterloo.  With Max, you had better be able to footnote your remarks!  Not that he always did!  Those talks could go on until the wee hours: politics, religion, history, art, and family affairs.  Often after Jean and Marilynn went to bed, Max and I would still be whispering for another few hours.  But what wonderful times the four of us had.  And to top everything off was Jean’s superb cooking and later her singing.  We all certainly experienced “the good life.”

                These rich conversations about Germany continued in Max and Jean’s later homes in El Cajon and then Palm Desert.  Jean and I would sing while Max played the piano.  Marilynn was our best audience.  And finally in December of 2002, I heard the complete Revolutionary Etude by Chopin.  Max told me that until he worked out the correct fingering, he couldn’t complete the piece.  Max was largely self taught on the piano.  I personally think he could have been a concert pianist-or anything else he put his mind to.

                Max was partial to Mozart.  That says a lot about his taste.

                As to his behavior he was never better than with young children.  Visiting him at his school where he was Principal, I watched him with children. The adored him, and he them.  His superiors at the Defense Schools (DODDS) in Washington, D.C., told me Max was their best.  I wondered if their admiration for him had anything to do with my getting contracts to provide Masters Degrees at DODDS School, when I was Dean at the University of Portland and later George Washington University in D.C.

                But a personal example of Max’s patience must be written.  One day I arrived in San Diego with military orders to attend the Naval Intelligence School for the course in Counter Terrorism.  Max and Jean picked me up around 10a.m.  My orders were vague, giving only the building number. I felt I could find the school by going to the Naval Basic Training School or the Naval Officer’s Quarters where I was staying.  Directions should be simple.  All I would need is a hastily drawn up map! Even for a Marine Corps Reserve officer like myself I would then be on my way!

                But! No one seemed to know a thing.  The Navy was too good at keeping secrets.  The regular Navy had no idea where to send me.  By 4:00 p.m., Max, Jean, and I had searched most of the Naval facilities in San Diego, Coronado, then North Island, then Miramar.  It was now 8:00 p.m.  Finally, after talking with the Senior Naval Security Office in San Diego, he personally told me he thought the Naval Intelligence building was back by the airport.  So at 8:30p.m., we found it!  Max was the paragon of virtue and patience the whole time.

                In December, 2002, in Palm Desert, we all planned how to reinvigorate the Leonard Family Association.  Max believed that our original plan of having several days of summer events of various kinds including a picnic was the only way for us to survive over the years.  The summer events would be in addition to programs throughout the year.  Having Temple sessions while others went to a Temple Square Concert was most appropriate.  Also, a Sunday church service, arts and craft displays, coupled with a program, and cemetery work or other family projects were necessary along with family file temple excursions throughout the year.  The “picnic-only-reunion” would, Max also believed, drive attendance down to where there would be no further family interest.  I promised Max I would get family established as a non-profit 501©3(federal entity with tax advantages).

                Max recounted many stories of his life many times to me.  I have them all, enough to fill a book.  What we should remember Max for was his high ideals, integrity, honesty, love, and brilliance.  Max could devastate you with a sentence and then break out in laughter, neutralizing the remark.  He never meant his anger, but he always meant his love and commitment.  While he preferred Shakespeare’s Henry IV to Hamlet, it is from Hamlet that I will best be able to say goodbye to him:

                                                                                “Goodnight sweet Prince
                                                                                 Let flights of angles speed thee to thy rest.”
                                We love you, Max.  We will keep the family together.

Remembering Max Leonard by Dr. Leo D. Leonard, Max Leonard’s nephew and the son of Leo B. Leonard. Leo D. is my cousin and Max is my father. 

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