Spirited storyteller, dog lover, bridge player, collector of books and things, ageless nonagenarian. Born June 28, 1918, in South Ops, Ont.; died Sept. 14, 2013, in Lindsay, Ont., of natural causes, aged 95.
Leonard Joseph Shea was only eight years old when his father, Albert Shea, died, leaving his mother, Martha T. Wilkinson, alone on a farm with four young sons to raise. What followed should have been a familiar story of living through the Depression and the war that followed. But Leonard’s memories were different.
His stories were of a farming community with a deep sense of what it meant to be a neighbour. Unforgettable meals during threshing season, hockey skates that magically appeared at Christmas and people who would find room at their table for four boys and their widowed mother. Leonard remembered every act of kindness shown by his neighbours. The result was a life full of gratitude and giving back.
His hometown of Lindsay, Ont., reaped the benefits. In addition to working for many years at Union Carbide in Lindsay, Leonard was volunteer director of the Horticultural Society, where he passed on his love of peonies and iris. His knowledge of the community’s heritage was channelled through his work with the local architectural conservatory board, giving tours of the town’s historical sights, speaking in classrooms and contributing to Bless These Walls, Lindsay’s heritage book. He was involved in the United Way and Lindsay Exhibition and served as chairman of the library board. His foresight laid the groundwork for the Lilac Gardens of Lindsay initiative.
Leonard’s commitment to the community was acknowledged with an honorary fellowship from Sir Sandford Fleming College and with the Citizen of the Year award in 1994.
He was a true champion of Lindsay but his family benefited most from his positive attitude. He shone a light on his three daughters, Ellen, Julia and Martha T., and for 60 years he shared the everyday details of everyday life with his love, Norma – the first snowfall, the hepatica flowers in the spring, a new baby on the street, the answer to Final Jeopardy.
Words like “ambrosia” and “best” were Leonard’s response to any food that was homemade. An example of this spirit became family legend. An overzealous son-in-law preparing the plum pudding after Christmas dinner mistook the turkey gravy for the caramel sauce. He reheated it, poured it on the pudding and passed around the plates. Leonard had never tasted such a treat before, and offered up his empty plate for seconds.
His later years were spent playing bridge, going to auction sales and instilling in his eight grandchildren the important things in life: planting walnut trees, counting trump and voting Liberal.
Leonard’s morning ritual was to dig out the Sports section from his beloved Globe and turn to the obits. The vast accomplishments of the dead amazed him. Their education, their experiences, their accolades. All in one lifetime.
Without a formal education, Leonard’s knowledge was startling. He was a reader, a historian and a thinker. A gardener, a nurturer and a man of deep faith. Somehow he managed it all. And all in one lifetime.
Julia Scott is Leonard’s daughter and Randy Penney is his son-in-law.