Bill Leonard, an award-winning television journalist who went on to produce the landmark Visible Human Project, the world's largest database of human anatomy, for the National Library of Medicine, died of a stroke June 20 at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington. He was 73 and lived in the District.
Mr. Leonard was a reporter, writer and producer who spent nearly 50 years in broadcasting and video production, without ever appearing in the camera's eye.
"He was a superb documentarian and writer," said Joel Albert, former manager of news at WRC-TV. "His storytelling ability was his true gift. Bill made a contribution to understanding our community."
He won six local Emmy awards for documentaries and news programs at WRC-TV in the 1970s and continued to produce freelance news stories, documentaries and information films as president of his own production company.
For the past 24 years, Mr. Leonard was an audiovisual production officer at the National Library of Medicine, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, where he prepared hundreds of exhibits and promotional films.
Having entered television in the 1950s, when news programs were broadcast in black and white, Mr. Leonard worked into the digital age. In the mid-1990s, he was in charge of visual production for the Visible Human Project, which has revolutionized the study of anatomy by presenting digital views of the human body in sharp, vivid three-dimensional form.
Scientists at the University of Colorado froze the cadavers of a 39-year-old man (a convicted murderer, as it happens) and a 59-year-old woman and sliced them into thousands of layers from head to toe. Each section, less than a millimeter thick, was photographed with a variety of cameras, allowing an almost infinite range of views of the body's organs and tissues.
Over the past 10 years, the Visible Human Project has become an important teaching tool in research laboratories and medical schools.
"This is a project that will last for literally centuries," said Joe Fitzgerald, chief of graphics at the library.
Mr. Leonard also produced documentaries on renowned surgeon Michael DeBakey, artificial intelligence and the National Library of Medicine's role in spreading information about medicine and health. Last year, he won the Director's Award, the highest honor for library employees.
"He was a conceptual guy," said Fitzgerald, a colleague of 24 years. "He would insist on looking through the lens, but he would always let the cameramen take the pictures."
William Roger Leonard was born in Appleton, Wis., graduated from Beloit College in Wisconsin and received a master's degree from Northwestern University. He began his career in 1955 as a television and radio production supervisor for a Chicago advertising agency. In 1957, he joined KTVI-TV in St. Louis and worked at NBC affiliates in Philadelphia and Cleveland before coming to WRC in 1969.
He worked at the Washington NBC station until 1973, producing documentaries and in-depth reports, and in 1970 won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for his reporting on politics. In the mid-1970s, he worked for Airlie Productions, a filmmaking arm of the Airlie Foundation, and was media director and assistant research professor at the George Washington University Medical Center. He formed his own company, Creative Communication Services, in 1974.
Even after joining the National Library of Medicine in 1980, Mr. Leonard continued to produce freelance investigative reports and documentaries for WRC well into the 1980s. He served a stint as the station's weekend assignment editor, while also working full time at the library. In addition to his six local Emmys, he won many other awards.
Mr. Leonard was a member of the Titanic Men's Society, which has met for more than 20 years to salute the chivalric spirit of the 1,360 men who lost their lives aboard the Titanic. The group, dressed in black tie, gathers at a Titanic memorial at the edge of the Potomac to raise a champagne toast at 1 a.m. every April 15, the hour and date the ship sank in 1912.
Mr. Leonard was a widely traveled man with a wry, outgoing personality that made him a favorite colleague and friend.
"Bill was full of stories," Fitzgerald said. "He had met almost everybody you could think of, and he always had some sort of pithy anecdote about them. He had been just about anywhere any sane person would want to go."
On his last trip, Mr. Leonard and his wife went to Bulgaria and Romania because those were the only countries in Europe they had never visited. They were planning to go to Egypt in the fall.
Survivors include his wife of 48 years, Elsa Leonard of Washington; two children, Victoria Leonard Chambers of Washington and F. Scott Leonard of Seoul; and a brother.