Leo was a graduate of Scranton Preparatory High School and the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Upon graduation, he joined the Marine Corps, where he attained the rank of captain. After completing his enlistment contract, Leo pursued advanced degrees in education from the University of Pittsburgh and Marywood University in Scranton, receiving masters' degrees in social work, public and international affairs and psychology.
Following his education, Leo, fluent in the Vietnamese language, traveled overseas to work in Vietnam under the auspices of the Unitarian Universalist Church for the purpose of establishing an undergraduate School of Social Work in Saigon. Upon returning to the United States, Leo worked in the capacity of executive director at Prince George's County United Way in Maryland, and the International Institute of Boston, Mass., before moving back to Scranton, Pa., where he opened the Dalton House. During Gov. Robert Casey's administration, Leo relocated to Harrisburg, Pa., and continued in social work at the State Department of Pennsylvania for the remainder of his career.
Few people have had so much of an impact on my life as Leo. I had what you might call a troubled teenage phase, that place between leaving behind the carefree existence of childhood and resisting the tedious responsibilities of adulthood. Leo drove a purple Gremlin and smoked filter-less Pall Malls when a pack of smokes was less than 50 cents a pack. And he didn't waste them, smoked them down to where they burnt the fingertips and leave that telling brown stain of tobacco.
From Leo I learned that no matter how bad things might look, there's always a morning after the storm. I dropped out of high school around the age of 16, moved away from DC to live in Atlanta and severed old family ties including ties to my friend Leo. I returned to Maryland to take the GED at my mother's request. She knew I didn't have much promise for the future but refused to sit by and allow me to go forward without at least a High School diploma. I was not even smart enough to be anxious about passing the test, didn't study, probably got drunk the night before. Actually that's not true, mother confined me to a room in her condo the night before and escorted me to the test facility next morn.
The afternoon before I took the test, I went over to Leo's to say hi. I hadn't seen him in a year or more. He was his usually jocular self, always smiled and free with his repertoire of casual banter, a mix of innocently silly and sardonic humor, and his eyes always lit up the room with an excitement about life, like I was actually in the midst of something important. Always. He always had a positive message, and while many shoot the messenger, Leo had a delivery that no reasonable person could hate. You might want to, but it was Leo -- everyone loved Leo.
His message: "The next time I see you, you'll be a high school graduate." He was right about one thing, I took the test and passed it, did pretty well too. I even went on to find some of the promised 'morning after the storm' days -- Leo knew life and how the good moments should be recognized, cherished for they pass without any sort of announcement so quickly one might not notice. I didn't notice. I never saw Leo again, never met his son, closed that door on my early life. I regret that I did not say goodbye knowing it would be the last time I'd talk with him. I would have taken a longer notice.
Rest well, Leo, the world needs more like you, I could only hope to pass on the same breaks, advice and good cheer, and most importantly the constant struggle to find the positive messages of our lifetimes. They are here, we have to keep looking for them.