Every block needs a Terry Leonhardy. If there were such a thing as human glue to hold people together, that would have been Leonhardy. He was known as the "Mayor of 38th Street," or more precisely, that block of 38th Street between Massachusetts Avenue NW and Woodley Road, on the western slope of Mount St. Albans, near the Washington Cathedral. Whenever something needed to happen on 38th Street, Leonhardy was the man to make it happen. He knew whom to call to get abandoned cars removed, bulk trash collected, vacant lots cleaned up or stately shade trees saved from the chain saw.
Leonhardy was a born conversationalist and storyteller. Since retiring from the Foreign Service in 1974, he had spent thousands of hours walking around his neighborhood, and he always stopped for a chat whenever he met a neighbor, which was often. With Tom Mann, who lived across the street, he'd swap stories about fly fishing, which they both loved. With Bob McFarren, who lived a few houses away, he'd reminisce about their days at the University of North Dakota, from which they both graduated.
There was an engaging manner about Leonhardy, and he had an irrepressible sense of humor, even in the most dire of circumstances. His family described him as "part curmudgeon, part leprechaun."
In 1973, near the end of his 32-year Foreign Service career, he was serving as consul general in Guadalajara, Mexico, when he was kidnapped at gunpoint by leftist guerrillas . For three days, he was held incommunicado, stripped of his clothing and blindfolded. When they released him, his captors gave him a shirt that was too large and pants that were too long. "Haven't I been here long enough for you guys to find something that fits better?" he said.
On March 7, at age 88, Terrance George Leonhardy died of coronary artery disease at his home on 38th Street.
He was born and raised on the high plains of North Dakota, in the town of Williston, on the banks of the Missouri River. There, during his youth, he acquired grist for the mill of his storytelling repertoire that decades later would engage his friends and neighbors. There would be stories about his father speaking the Sioux language at American Indian gatherings on the banks of the Missouri, and his years at the University of North Dakota when, with other students, he shared living accommodations in a freight train caboose parked in a nearby rail yard. Snow poured in through the wooden slats in the winter. Depending on whether he had the top or bottom bunk bed, Leonhardy was always too hot or too cold. But the rent was low, and in the years of the Great Depression, that was no small matter.
After receiving a master's degree in business administration at Louisiana State University, Leonhardy began his Foreign Service career in 1942. He served several assignments in Washington and in Denmark, Spain, Colombia and El Salvador. It was during the Mexican Cinco de Mayo holiday that he was kidnapped by guerrillas who demanded freedom for 30 people, whom they said the Mexican government was holding as political prisoners. Leonhardy was released by his kidnappers after the 30 were freed and flown to Cuba. A year later, he retired from the Foreign Service.
At 52, he married for the first time. His bride was Lee Nelles, a fellow Foreign Service officer who passed up a posting in Paris to marry him. They were married for 36 years. He became a father for the first time at 53. After his retirement in 1974, he began a second career as a stay-at-home dad to his two young daughters. He also became a community activist. He was vice chairman of his neighborhood citizens association. He helped get sticker parking permits for residents. When it snowed, he was always the first out of his house with a shovel. When he finished clearing his own sidewalk, he'd clear those of his neighbors.
He walked to the 6:30 a.m. daily Mass at the Catholic Church of the Annunciation on Massachusetts Avenue.. Then he'd come home and walk his daughters to school. No one knows how many miles he walked in a week, but it was a lot. His walks took a long time, because he was always stopping to tell someone a story. At a March 17 service of remembrance, it was said of him, "If you knew Terry long enough, you, too, would be the star of a story, sometimes with details related that you were not quite sure had happened."
He tended a garden in his back yard, and he was always delighted with its first edible lettuce of the year and its first flowers of spring. He loved sharing his enthusiasm for gardening with neighborhood children, who stopped by regularly. All kitchen fruit and vegetable cuttings were composted, and whatever could be recycled was recycled.
Leonhardy avidly read newspapers and newsmagazines, and he ran an informal but ambitious clipping service, sending stories and articles to friends and neighbors on subjects he thought might interest them.
Near the end of his life, Leonhardy's strength and energy ebbed. No longer did he get out and about the way he once had. Sometimes his daughters, Katie and Eileen, came by to walk the neighborhood with him, just as he had walked with them to school years ago.