LHRR announcer Brent Hawkins and the late Tommy Leonard.
By Brent Hawkins
Litchfield and the entire running world lost a great friend when Tommy Leonard passed away in January in his beloved Falmouth by the sea. Tommy was instrumental in helping to start the Litchfield Hills Road Race all those years ago.
At the time, Tommy was a well-known character and bartender in Boston at the now legendary “Eliot Lounge.” Through his buddy Joe Concannon, he was able to talk the Litchfield selectmen into letting this town have a footrace.
Tommy had made great friends in his life and many of them were due to his association with Litchfield. They would flock to Falmouth throughout the year to visit him and his last hometown. Several winners of the Litchfield Hills Road Race and other running legends shared their thoughts about Tommy.
“Tommy Leonard was a longtime friend, one of the architects of New England road racing, founding three of the top road races, Litchfield, Holyoke and Falmouth. He was a friend to all. And everyone whoever met him never forgot him,” Bill Rodgers, two-time winner LHRR.
“It was fantastic that the Litchfield Hills Road Race invited Tommy Leonard each year. To me, seeing him at the start line or down with the Hawk and his team at the announcer truck, that was the making of the Road Race. He was the Master of Ceremonies. When Tommy said GO, everyone ran their BEST Race.” – Rod Dixon, five-time Olympian and winner of NYC marathon.
“Tommy Leonard I met you a young man, you elevated my life, reinforced my original thought introduced me to my lifetime friends and supporters with a state of grace you had and wonder, I miss you every day be a good boy.” – Bob Hodge, LHRR winner
“I first met Tommy in 1984 after my college roommate Chris Lydon introduced me to the Eliot Lounge. Like with everyone else, Tommy was very welcoming with his warm happy laugh, somebody who enjoyed life. Over the years I had the privilege of driving him home from races like the Wilton NH 15k, but the trip I remember most was when he asked me to bring him from Boston to Litchfield in 1991. He said he gets off work at 4:30 which ended up being 7pm so I had to sit in the Eliot for 2 1/2 hours and not drink! Then he got a 6 pack for the ride (he drank) and made for eventful conversation. I was wondering why he seemed to be not responding when I was talking until I realized he was basically deaf in his left ear. Great memories.” Jimmy Fallon, winner LHRR.
I knew Tommy very well. We had a friendship of more than 40 years. Tommy Leonard was magical! Maybe the best word would be that he was a Miracle!
Here’s a man who grew up as an orphan, bouncing around (or escaping from) one foster home to another during his childhood until he landed with the Francis X. Tierney brood and the rest is history. Or should be!
He was a sprite in a man’s body! Always a gleam in his eye, thinking up one thing or another, or dreaming about his next beer, Tommy was the common man’s hero. He would say, he was only a bartender! Yes, but one who had a bridge named after and dedicated to him (not just once, but twice) in Boston, next to the Eliot Lounge. He also had a park bench dedicated to him in Falmouth.
He had a least one book written about him, entitled “If this is Heaven, I’m going to be a Good Boy!” by Kathleen Cleary. They even started a race from one bar to another to celebrate his 40th birthday. That birthday run is entitled the Falmouth Road Race now. Even with his very tough first several years, Tommy turned out to be perhaps one of the best, kindest, most genuine and generous people ever to walk this earth. He wasn’t one in a million, he was one of one!
Local sports celebrity Brent Hawkins is a well-known figure in New England road-racing circles.