Tribute to Patrick J. Leonard Sr
By Pete Ehrmann
Special to IBRO
Writing about the history of boxing is usually its own reward, but when I had a piece about White Hope Luther McCarty published in The Ring magazine in mid-1991 I hit the jackpot. Not monetarily, for sure, but because the article brought me to the attention of Patrick J. Leonard Sr., and launched a 22-year long-distance friendship with the man whose marvelous exploits as a writer, historian (boxing and more), Pinkerton detective, debunker of mentalists, ghost-busters and other such fakers, believer in the innocence of Sacco and Vanzetti, and onetime secretary of Boston’s fabled Ring 4, fill the stacks of letters from Pat I’ve been re-reading since learning of his death on March 19 at age 95.
A new letter postmarked Braintree, MA, was always cause for celebration here even the few times Pat neglected to type “Writer Nonpareil” under my name on the envelope. Each one was so charming, engrossing and enlightening that my wife, who would rather sit through another re-run of a sitcom that has already put her to sleep a few hundred times than hear another word about Ad Wolgast, “The Battle of the Long Count” or whether George Chuvalo was tougher than Sailor Tom Sharkey, demanded I read it aloud to her. Even when they ran into five or six single-spaced pages, which was frequently and most-welcomely the case.
Pat and boxing became an item when he was 15 and got a job in a Beantown rubber mill by signing a form that said he was 18. Down the street from his house was a gym run by his “hero and mentor” Gus Brown. Pat started boxing and wrestling at weekly smokers there, and when hauled into the office of the parish priest once for questioning “a lantern-jawed, stone-faced nun who told us that only people who were baptized Catholic would ever go to heaven,” he was told “to believe what I was told and also that a boy like me should not be boxing at the smokers as he understood foul and profane language was used at those places.”
A frequent opponent in the smokers was Irish Dan Leahy, later a professional heavyweight who seconded Pat’s nomination for secretary of Ring 4 by bellowing, “I wanna vote for Pat Leonard and I want the rest of you … to vote for Pat. I put him on his ass seven times one night and he got every damned time, and that’s the kind of guy we need for secretary!”
Fellow Ring 4 member Lefty Luongo provided Pat with the philosophy that carried him through the death of his beloved wife Rosanna and the physical problems that mounted up in the final years of his life: “You gotta keep punchin’ or da odder sonuvabitch will win!”
Pat was very proud of his accomplished children, son Pat Jr. (a noted ring historian in his own right) and daughter Mary. The latter, he wrote in one letter, “was born with a natural left hook. She beat up a seven-year-old bastard when she was four. He was pushing other little girls off their tricycles. Mary objected, and he walloped her right in the face. It was like hitting Paulino [Uzcudan]. She never flinched, got him with the left with all her body behind it, and his nose spurted blood all over his clothes. That night his dad came over and demanded to know who was the big girl that beat up his son. Rosanna pointed to Mary, who had a cherubic expression and was obviously only four. The bully avoided our area for years afterwards.”
Because he didn’t like or trust computers, Pat continued to bang out articles on a typewriter until just a few months before his death. Thanks to a brilliant short story he wrote about the famous Charley Mitchell-John L. Sullivan 1888 heavyweight championship fight in Chantilly, France, in which Sherlock Holmes surreptitiously stood in for Mitchell, Pat’s membership in an exclusive London-based society of Holmesians was endorsed by the daughter of Arthur Conan Doyle himself.
His talents even included painting, and once he sent some photos of pictures he had done. “I used house paint, cannot draw, and am almost completely colorblind,” he explained. “But why let lack of ability stop you?”
The one time he ever expressed annoyance with me was when I wrote that I considered him a great man. Too bad, Patchmor, but guilty as charged.