Unlike his storied life, Leo died alone in his home of a massive heart attack. Nobody was around to hold his hand or light a candle to guide his soul through darkness to the Pearly Gates. He died broke and happy, taking a restful nap.
He lived life to the fullest and never complained that his destiny was unfair. A ladies’ man and perennial optimist, he never gave up the quest to find his soul mate. In this pursuit, he married five times to women he adored. We don’t know what stories his ex-wives would tell if asked. Multiple marriages seemed to be the norm for boxers. Even the famous Jack Dempsey had married four times.
Leo was a championship boxer famous in his days in the Navy. He trained many Golden Glove boxers during his career. As a feisty child who misbehaved often and needed a lesson or two from his dad, he was knocked out cold once when he reached for food impolitely at the dinner table and forgot to duck. His dad made sure that he remembered his manners. He often said, good thing social services were not around when his strict disciplinarian dad used spanking, punishment, and rewards to motivate him – his life would have turned out much differently. He learned early in life that discipline and respect were the keys to success.
Leo’s dad, Herman, a heavyweight champion boxer himself, had sparred in his heyday with Jack Dempsey, the Muhammad Ali of his time. Jack Dempsey, nicknamed the “Manassa Mauler,” was the heavyweight world boxing champion from 1919-1926. A large photograph still exists of the two fighting while the crowds are cheering on.
Leo left behind numerous scrap books with newspaper clippings, black and white pictures, and posters collected during his years in the Navy, his boxing matches, and many photos of students he trained as amateur Golden Glove boxers, whom he helped develop athletic skills and character. The Golden Glove of America Inc. has been around since 1923. A few amateur boxers trained by Leo have progressed into the Pan Am and Olympic Games.
Touching the faded pages, immersing into someone’s private life whom I’ve never met, I imagine the excitement of the match. I often watched games with my dad when I was a child, particularly those of Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali’s former persona in the boxing world.
Leo’s two children and two surviving younger brothers did not expect many people at the funeral. They were not even sure if the ex-wives who were still alive would be there. To everyone’s surprise, the small church in West Virginia was packed with former students who adored Leo and had come a long way to pay their last respects. News had traveled fast in the boxing world that he had departed. They never forget a champion or a first class trainer. After a short service and a eulogy delivered by his brother Eugene, the funeral procession lined up to accompany Leo’s earthly remains on his last journey to the cemetery.
But the hearse did not go to the cemetery; it drove and drove and drove until it reached very thick woods, the road became impassable by car, and it finally disappeared. Leo was an eccentric through and through. He did not want to spend eternity six feet below freshly mowed grass in the bustling city’s memorial gardens. Leo wanted to be buried in his beloved woods where he hunted frequently. The pallbearers were forced to carry his casket through the dense woods for quite a long trek, heaving the casket, and taking frequent breaks. When they finally reached the destination, a fresh grave was dug by his hunting stand.
The family and the former students were not quite sure if it was legal to bury someone in the middle of the woods without a proper permit, but apparently it was because nobody came to disinter him. The preacher held a quick service by the gravesite and Leo was lowered six feet under his deer stand.
I hear echoes of the past in that story.
So true, Geo, so true.