Sunday, April 18, 2010

Thomas Edward Leonard (1916-1980)

Thomas Edward Leonard (1933)

I never knew my Grandpa Tom, but he had quite a story...

Tom grew up at 8 Briggs Street, Portland, the only child of Thomas Matthew Leonard & Agnes Peterson.  At a very young age, he became interested in short wave radio, while experimenting on ancient batteries. The picture above is from an article done in the Portland Press Herald detailing his radio accomplishments. He had built his own half kilowatt station at the young age of 17. He had made contact with a ship off the coast of Iceland, and stations in Spain, Ecuador, Denmark, England, Italy, among others. He had regular contact with a station in Holland, every day, in fact, at 3:00 a.m. I'm sure the man got little sleep during his obsession, and probably missed some school days at Portland High.

Both of Grampa Tom's parents died while he was very young.  His mother Agnes died of meningitis in the winter of 1934, when Tom was only 17, and just before he graduated high school.  His father Tom died in 1943, of emphysema, while Grampa Tom was serving in the Pacific.  It appears that Grampa Tom had an appendectomy scar on his body as well, just when he was enlisting in 1934.


While at Portland High School, he met Lorena Bell Fuller, and when Lorena revealed in May of 1936 that she was two months pregnant, they planned to immediately marry. Since they were too young to marry in Portland, he at age 19, she at 18, they went to Portsmouth and married. Tom fibbed on this record, however, claiming he was 21!

Soon thereafter, they moved briefly to 63 Jefferson Street in Biddeford, in the old building named for (and managed by) former Biddeford Mayor Edward Henry Drapeau, and one of his former residences.  This building had been seized in the late 20's by the City after the Mayor had been convicted of graft (siphoning money from the City Treasury).


Here is where Grampa Tom started up his first home-based radio repair company called "Radio Rex Service," which was likely named after the then popular kid's toy involving a radio controlled dog which could be summoned from his doghouse by voice command:

In 1938, they moved back to Portland, living on 21 Spruce Street, and later 94 State Street, in Portland, had my father Thomas in December of that year, and then two girls, Rena Agnes (nicknamed "Honey") and Charlotte Louise.

They were not married three years, when Lorena ("Nana") filed divorce proceedings. In fact, there is an unflattering article on this found in the local paper:

The divorce was finalized in March of 1939.

In the 1940 Census, Tom was living with his father at 8 Briggs Street.  The below census page was rather disorganized, in that it makes him appear to be living with a William & Emma Quinn, but luckily the handwriting on the side gives reference to the father's house as listed in a prior page of the census in this district.  Tom was calling himself divorced, and was working as a radioman.

Tom left for active duty shortly thereafter, and had promised to pay child support to his ex-wife.  But Lorena's mother, Lorena (my "Gram") deeply disapproved of Tom...and the story was that any attempt that Tom tried to make with Nana was blocked by Gram. Either way, my Dad said that the whole family converted to Protestantism, even though all three kids were christened at St. Dominic's Church in Portland...and all because there was much anger toward Grampa Tom for leaving them.

Either way, Tom had joined the Navy, just in time for WWII.  He never disclosed his prior marriage to the military, either.

He was stationed at on the USS St. Louis when the Attack on Pearl Harbor occurred.

USS ST. LOUIS (1941)

(in Naval uniform)

Tom's expert radio skills came in handy while in the service, and especially on that fateful day.  I've created a separate blog page which abstracts his vast military records.  It's likely that Tom was inspired by Atwater Kent, the inventor of the single coil radio.

During and after the Navy, he lived in various parts of California:  San Francisco, San Pedro, Long Beach, and Oxnard.  In 1942, He had a Las Vegas wedding with Barbara Ione Connell from Westbrook Maine (whom he also knew in high school), and moved back to Portland Maine and lived with Barbara's family.  I'm not sure when the divorce to Rena was final, however.  When Tom's father died in 1943, a cousin to Grampa Tom, Matthew John Leonard, Jr., demanded that Grampa Tom use some of the money in bonds that was bequeathed to him to buy his parents a nice headstone at Calvary Cemetery.  It took some time, but this was done.  However, it's a shame that nobody saw to it that the rest of the Leonard family (Grampa Tom's grandparents, and his aunt Sallie and her son Leonard) were to be included on the headstone, although they are also buried there.

Tom & Barbara had two daughters, one born in Oxnard, the other born in Portland, Maine.  While in Maine, Tom worked overseas for Aramco Oil for about a year, and eventually the family moved to Accokeek, Maryland in 1960.

Tom, Barbara, and the family eventually moved to North Fort Myers, Florida in 1971.  At that point, Tom worked for the U.S. Coast Guard Maritime as a Radio Operator. He also served on the board of the American Radio Relay League, Dept. of Disaster Preparedness, and was a member of the Ft. Myers Radio Club.

He died at home of emphysema in 1980, at age 63. He and Barbara's ashes are interred at Coral Ridge Gardens, Cape Coral, FL.

Back in 1964, when this family was living back in Portland Maine, they had paid a visit to Tom's kids Honey & Charlotte (my father wanted nothing to do with him since he had deserted them as children).  Unfortunately, this contact wasn't continued thereafter, although there was hope for it.  I'm very happy that many decades later, I've established contact with this family, and we're beginning the process of getting to know each other. 

November Telegram from Tom (in San Francisco) to Barbara (in Westbrook), asking her to meet him in San Francisco, just a week before they were married in Las Vegas.

TRANSCRIPTION:  Nov 1, 1942  To Barbara I. Connell, 646 Main Street, Cumberland Mills, Maine.  "Short Leave Starting Thursday.  Will Give Us Enough Time To Marry And Get Settled.  Cannot Mention How Long I'll Be Here But Will Be Together Will You Come to San Francisco Immediately (Stop) Draw Money And Pack Light Suitcase Leave Portland By Monday Proceed To The Golden Hotel.."

Once in San Francisco, they settled in at 1736 Fell Street, where they lived from November 1942 to late summer 1944, when he was admitted to the Naval Hospital in San Pedro for PTSD (then called 'War Neurosis').  I searched through all local directories of the time, and he was never listed there.  The kind current owners of this property allowed me to view and take pictures of my grandfather's San Francisco apartment:




Below is a pedigree chart of Thomas.  He was 50% Danish and 50% Irish.

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