Harry Leonard Sawatzky grew up in southern Manitoba in a conservative Mennonite agricultural community where higher learning was often not strongly encouraged.
Despite the odds, he completed high school and received his BA from the University of Manitoba in 1961, and his MA and PhD as a Woodrow Wilson scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. He began his teaching career in 1963 at the University of Manitoba's department of environment and geography.
Leonard was an outstanding thinker, scholar and researcher of international stature. The basis of his philosophy was respect for and care of the biosphere. He held tenaciously to the view that the planet is not ours to plunder and despoil; rather we are but passing stewards with a responsibility to minimize the negative impact of our activities and to enhance the quality of our environment.
A major part of Leonard's research and writing focused on human geography. His first book, They Sought a Country: Mennonite Colonization in Mexico, is an insightful and sensitive analysis.
Leonard had a gift for languages (English, German, Spanish, considerable French and some Russian) and he could be a real pain when it came to the accuracy and meaning of words. He had an amazing memory for places, dates, events and facts. His vast and accurate knowledge on many topics and his emphasis on teaching "in the field" sometimes led to tensions with his colleagues.
With the co-operation of his farmer tenants, Leonard practised what he taught on his farm lands. His home and property by the La Salle River on the south side of Winnipeg housed wild turkeys, wood ducks, deer, squirrels and birds.
Leonard was frugal with himself, but quietly generous with others, rarely expecting recognition. He had a mischievous sense of humour, and his friendship often included a hands-on dimension such as building decks and clearing snow from neighbours' and friends' driveways.
He supported needy students, hosted foreign scholars and lent his financial support to numerous noble causes. On one study tour of Mennonite settlers in the Yucatan, Mexico, he came upon a group of destitute farmers who had no resources or credit to obtain supplies to plant the next crop. Leonard tried to get help for them from Canada, but when that did not work he simply and quietly met their most urgent needs on his own dime.
Leonard died in the saddle, with his boots on, so to speak; he was to retire in June. He is missed by many.
John. W. Martens is Leonard's friend and colleague.