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James A. Leonard

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James A. Leonard Obituary
James A. Leonard James A. Leonard, the quintessential intrepid Texan, passed on September 12, 2013, from complications of Dementia, a month short of his eighty-third birthday and following a life rich with stunning achievement in oil, cattle, horses, and politics. Born in Brooklyn, New York, to Jay and Florence Leonard, Jim was raised in Fort Worth, graduated from the University of Texas in 1951 after working summers on oil rigs, and served in the Air Force during the Korean War. When he completed his service, he resumed work on rigs in order to learn the business and to earn a stake to begin his own exploration. In doing so, he discovered that the risks inherent in the business were compounded by government policy, especially that policy guided by the New Deal philosophy of the Democratic Party that then dominated Texas. To deal with the matter head-on, and despite the Republican Party in Texas at that time being no more than an agency for Post Office patronage, in 1960, Jim announced for the Texas Senate as a Republican. He lost. In fact, Texas sent no Republican to any office in Austin that year, but James Aloysius Leonard had only just begun to pursue his farfetched dream of a Republican Texas that honored individual liberty and respected individual enterprise. In early 1961, while continuing to build his fledgling oil business. Jim agreed to serve as the first Executive Director of the Republican Party of Texas. To emphasize the Party's new intention to become a force in state government, he moved the headquarters from Houston to Austin. Then, he immediately mobilized the Party's meager resources to support the candidacy of a thirty-six-year-old Associate Professor of Government, John Tower, to fill Lyndon Johnson's vacant US Senate seat. Tower's improbable victory inaugurated a four decade process in which Jim played a key role in making the Texas Republican Party the ultimate and dominant political manifestation of the unique idea that is Texas. He steered Jack Cox's 1962 campaign against the popular John Connally, garnering an astonishing 46% of the vote. In 1964, he managed young George H. W. Bush's unsuccessful US Senate bid. Then, in 1966, in the wake of the Goldwater debacle, Senator Tower prevailed on Jim to take charge of his doubtful re-election bid against a popular Connally-backed, Democratic Attorney-General. Employing the signal wit and charm for which Jim was famous, he convinced the Senator and the small, but growing Party organization under Peter O'Donnell to support innovative computer technology in implementing one of the most creative and effective grassroots campaigns in American political history. Jim's success that year not only returned Tower to the Senate but also spearheaded three Congressional victories, including that of the future President Bush, and Texas's first Republicans elected to the State Senate and House since Reconstruction. Then, after nearly a decade of personal sacrifice to build the new Party, Jim turned his full attention to his oil business, concentrated on his family, bought a ranch, entered the cattle business, and took up quarter-horse and thoroughbred racing, all successfully. But, as ancient Rome did Cincinnatus, the Party would again summon Jim. In 1980, Senator Tower prevailed on him to Chair the Associated Republicans of Texas' project to win Republican majorities in both houses of the Texas legislature. Thus, in each election over the next two decades, with Jim's leadership, judgment, and influence buttressing the genius of Executive Director, Norman Newton, ART successfully increased Republican representation in the legislature until in 2002 it presented the Party with majorities in both houses. James A. Leonard had made his unlikely forty-year dream a reality. James is survived by Jackie Leonard, his wife of 44 years, daughters Mary Dean Smith of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dr. Elizabeth Nelson and her husband David of Sacramento, California; sons, James A. Leonard, III and his wife Blanca Estela Escalante , John Leonard and his wife Dr. Lauren Webb, and Patrick Leonard, all of Austin; two grandchildren, Sean and Emma Nelson; sister Dr. Barbara Carr of Nacogdoches, Texas, niece Anne Carr of Austin, nephews Robert Hedeen of Clifton, New York, Michael Hedeen of Rockford, Illinois, and Scott Hedeen of Atlanta, Georgia. He was preceded in death by his sister Peggy Hedeen. A prayer service will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, September 19 at Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home, 411 Ranch Road 620 South, Lakeway, TX. A Funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, September 20 at Emmaus Catholic Church, 1718 Lohman's Crossing, Lakeway, TX. The family wishes to give special thanks to caregivers Denise Castaneda and Hospice Compassus. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations are made to Emmaus Catholic Church, 1718 Lohman's Crossing, Lakeway, Texas. 78734. Obituary and memorial guestbook available online at www.wcfish.com


Published in Austin American-Statesman on Sept. 18, 2013
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