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Remembering Dick Leon

Dear Friends of Dick Leon,

When John Sowers asked if I would write something about Dick Leon for the newsletter I was both honored and worried. How could I possibly capture all that Dick meant to me and to so many others? So knowing that I absolutely cannot do that, I will just share a few thoughts about this amazing man and use really small font so I can get in as much as possible.

It’s probably one of the most difficult things in this life to lose a family member to death. Especially a shocking and unexpected death that leaves you shaking your head and saying, “No, not that. Not him. Not now.” But what if the person feels like family? What if they have felt like a father or a brother or a such a close friend that it’s like a member of your family has been lost? That’s what it felt like when we heard about Dick Leon. And I know it’s not just me. I’m pretty sure that everyone who knew him even a little bit felt this way. Because you always felt like he knew you. And that he cared about you deeply. That’s the way he was with everyone he met. You would see his big smile and he would open his arms and embrace you in the biggest, tightest hug. He was a great hugger.

Dick Leon came to First Pres Spokane in 1976. He moved here from the Philippines, with his wife, Carolyn and his three kids, Wynnie, Frannie, and Jay. They were here with us for the next ten years. During that time, he was a huge influence on what First Presbyterian Church Spokane became and is to this day. He inspired the creation of the Bethel class, so that the people in his church would know the Bible well and he could preach to a Biblically literate church. He was passionate about creating cohesive small groups so that people would feel connected and supported in their faith. He promoted a weekend long Family Camp at Camp Spalding, which he always participated in all aspects of-—especially if it involved a competition of some sort! He valued depth in friendships, in families, and in faith, and he modeled this depth in his own life every day.

He was also a really good preacher and teacher of the Bible. When he spoke, you felt comforted, inspired, and encouraged. Every Sunday when Dick preached here, we sat in the same spot on the side of the balcony, often giggling or playing a game when we were younger. Dick would give us “the look”-—but always with a smile.

The years Dick was in Spokane spanned from when I was in fourth grade until I was a senior in high school. I spent a lot of time in the Leon home (probably a little more than they would have liked), because his daughter Wynnie was one of my closest friends. My family ate many meals with the Leons, celebrated birthdays and graduations, played practical jokes on each other, and laughed until we cried.

Dick was there for many key moments in my life. In 1978 I got the first Bible I ever received at First Pres, The Good News Bible with the gold cover. It was signed and presented to me by Dick Leon. At 15 when I joined the church with a “new members class,” Dick Leon was there asking us the important questions of our faith. In a picture of a family vacation to Oregon, Dick is sitting next to me playing hearts. I found the Mere Christianity book he and Carolyn gave me for my high school graduation. In the front is a handwritten note from Dick encouraging me to hold onto Jesus through the tough questions that would come along in college.

Dick performed our wedding ceremony at his church in Bellevue. (He also literally “had my back” when my veil caught on fire during the ceremony. He put out the two small fires and spent several minutes picking charred pieces off of it during the song that followed. He was very thoughtful...and thorough.) He baptized and married my sister Tanya, and he was there at the hospital to give a blessing when my brother Brett and Judd McCaffree were going through their kidney transfer. And two weeks before he died, he gave his last sermon at my brother’s pastoral ordination service in Puyallup, exhorting him to fulfill his vows as pastor with integrity, passion, and love.

Dick Leon’s life and ministry reached far and to so many. He loved like Jesus, he listened like Jesus, and he lived his life sharing Jesus’s message with others. One of the scriptures read at Dick’s service was from John Chapter 14. “I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you…When everything is ready I will come and get you so that you will always be with me where I am.” In the picture at right, Dick has a place reserved for him in the front pew of the church. I know there was a front row seat reserved for him in heaven, too.

Also on this page is a poem my brother wrote soon after Dick’s passing. He said I could share it here. It captures the heart of Dick Leon well. This is a man who will be truly missed, but remembered always with joy and a smile.                                                                                                               

—Tracy Blue

 

A TRIBUTE TO DICK LEON

By the newly ordained...

 

We filled pews from the floor to the balcony high

At any age drawn to the presence of this guy

And he preached.

His presence was one of power that came from above

His spirit, his words filled with compassion, with love

The gifts he gave beyond sermons were many

He came with a deep voice and deep interest in any

And he laughed.

He would look us in the eye, ask a good question

Then a heartfelt response, that gave cause for reflection

Though his life was full, he showed up, always, for others

To marry, to bless, to weep with his sisters and brothers

And he blessed.

Prayers and gentle words that brought peace

He spoke hopeful words that never cease

We even found him later in places we’d never have thought

Perhaps down the middle of a fairway in a greener spot

And he played.

Gifted to share time on golf courses and beaches

Even then, through his life, it is grace he teaches

A few weeks back, he donned his stole

For the last time to play the pastoral role

And he preached again.

Church, Christ, and Mission forever ingrained

How moved we are still, by his words ordained

And he rides on…

—Brett Shoemaker

To read other rememberances of Dick or to share your own, please visit this Bellevue Presbyterian website:  http://belpres.org/dick-leon-memories/

 

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