“It was going to be a huge celebration and feels as though covid took it from us,” said Jacqueline Tonic, daughter of Leroy Tonic Jr. “I just don't understand how it happened.”
Leroy Tonic Sr., the youngest of 11, was born in Rocky Mount, N.C. He was drafted into the Navy, serving at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and training facilities in Washington state, then was honorably discharged in 1946.
Tonic last year was honored by the D.C. Council after his name appeared among more than 1,800 others painted in gold on a plaque honoring District government employees who served in the war. Once on display outside the John A. Wilson District Building, the plaque was broken during a renovation and stored in a closet without the topmost panel explaining what it was for. Officials only solved the mystery four years ago.
At the time of the ceremony, Tonic, who had dementia, was living in the Prince George’s County nursing home where he would develop covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
After Tonic’s wife, who lived with him in the home, died in 2017, family members expected his condition to deteriorate, but the music lover surprised them. “He would be up and dancing and doing things that a normal 95- or 96-year-old wouldn’t be doing,” said Haleem Tonic, who accompanied his grandfather to the ceremony.
He remembered his grandfather as the man who taught him how to play cards and pool — and who looked after him when his own father, who died of a brain aneurysm in the 1990s, wasn’t around.
“He definitely was a role model for me,” Haleem Tonic said. “He was my hero. He was my best friend and I loved him to death.”
Leroy Tonic Sr. died May 2, five days before his 64-year-old son.
Leroy Tonic Jr. spent much of his life behind bars, according to his daughter. She said her father was released in 2016 and set about rebuilding the relationships he left behind.
Family members weren’t familiar with details of his criminal history. Public records show convictions for armed carjacking and drug charges for someone with his name and age.
“We all make decisions in life that we wish we hadn't,” she said. “We’re dealing with them and overcoming them and taking new strides to be better people. I feel like my father did that. He paid whatever his price was.”
After her father’s release, Jacqueline Tonic said her relationship with her father had improved. She helped him navigate dialysis appointments at the D.C. nursing home where he lived and readjust to society. When he wanted to get potatoes at a chicken restaurant in Northeast Washington, she was the one to break the news that it no longer existed. He had to settle for fried fish boxes and crab balls.
She was also with her father in his final months, during which he was hospitalized twice before his death on May 7. She said she struggles to understand how a person can contract the virus in a nursing home, where workers are supposed to take precautions.
“You think they are safer than we are,” she said. “They’re protected by a sterile environment. They are professionals. . . . In these instances, it failed.”