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Remembering Scott Leake

Ned Groth, March 2005

(Author’s note: This biographical remembrance is based heavily on documents, including letters and e-mails I got from Scott, my notes on our phone conversations, and back issues of the class newsletter.  It also contains some of my own subjective impressions.  My goal is to create an honest and loving portrait of our classmate, through his triumphs and tragedies.  While I’ve striven for factual accuracy, I take full responsibility for any errors of interpretation I may have made, and this is a living document.  It can be amended, or corrected, if it needs to be.     –NG)


Scott was one of the “hard core” of our class (13 of us) who spent all four of our high school years at Darrow.  His yearbook entry says his nickname was “Plow Boy,” and now and then somebody would call him “Farm Boy” or “Farmer,” because, well, he grew up on a farm.  But I can’t remember anyone seriously teasing Scott.  He was just too nice.  He and I lived up in Valentine Cottage, an all-freshman dorm, for our freshman year, along with Dave Benson and Robin Humphrey (my roommates), Terry Tyler (Scott’s roommate), Carl Braun and Frank Phillips, and Smith Robertson as our senior RA/babysitter. We were a pretty close-knit group and had some good bonding experiences that year.
In October of our first year some genius (I think it was me or Dave) discovered that we could make a great slingshot out of a bent coat hanger and the big rubber bands that held on our soccer shin guards.  Soon several of us had made slingshots and we needed something to shoot at.  The abandoned Shaker Medicine Shop behind our dorm, with its many windows, proved an inviting target, one we could shoot at from our rooms.  Over a week or so, we managed to shoot out about 95 percent of the window panes on the side of Medicine facing Valentine.  Eventually our housemaster, Larz Anderson, heard breaking glass, figured out what was going on and came trotting upstairs to confiscate slingshots.  As I recall it, Benson and I were caught red-handed, wielding weapons.  A couple of the other guys who had participated had plausible deniability, and simply kept quiet when Stubby asked who else was involved.  Dave and I feigned ignorance, willing to take the rap for the whole gang.  Scott didn’t get caught shooting, but he had shot once or twice, and he confessed. (That’s just the kind of guy he was.)
Later that afternoon, we found ourselves sitting at the big table in Mr. Heyniger’s office as The Boss steamed silently.  Eventually he explained what we had done.  The windows in Medicine Shop had been, for the most part, original Shaker glass, dating back close to 100 years.  Although the building was being used only for storage at that point and looked run-down, it was part of a national historical heritage.  Which we had destroyed some of, just for fun.  A very sober trio of freshmen sat and listened and wondered whether we were going to be expelled.
But Mr. Heyniger had a different punishment for us, one he felt fit the crime. What we had destroyed, we would rebuild.  For the next week or so, instead of soccer practice, we devoted our afternoons to a special Hands-to-Work assignment:  under Mr. Anderson’s supervision, Dave, Scott and I replaced all the broken windows in the Medicine Shop (as I recall, even a few we hadn’t broken ourselves).  We paid for the glass and putty out of our Student Drawing Accounts, and we provided the labor.  Since all three of us liked to work with our hands, this didn’t feel so much like punishment after all.  It gave us the chance to practice a useful skill (glazing), to contemplate how foolish we’d been, and to work as a team and accomplish some visible results.
While Scott was a quiet, unassuming kid, he stood out at Darrow in two ways.  He wasn’t terribly big, but he was strong and in great shape, and he was a very good athlete.  He played soccer and lacrosse, and he and Kazu Sohma anchored the ski team, where Scott excelled at both cross-country and jumping.  In my 1960 yearbook, Scott signed next to the ski team picture and wrote “My favorite sport!”  He was a quiet team leader who led by example—hard work and determination were his trademarks.  He was captain of the ski team and co-captain of the lacrosse team his senior year.  He also won the cross-country run in House Games our junior and senior years.  In one of those victories, as I recall, he crossed the finish line next to the Meeting House before the second-place runner had even come into sight at the top of the hill by Ann Lee.

The other part of Darrow life at which Scott shone was Hands-to-Work.  From growing up on a farm, he was experienced at manual labor and really enjoyed it.  As a senior, he drove the tractor used by various crews on Wednesday afternoons, and he was Hands-to-Work prefect, working with Charlie Brodhead to assign and oversee crews.
As we all did, of course, Scott also learned a lot from the great teachers we had at Darrow.  At graduation, he headed off to the University of Vermont, expecting to major in engineering. As we all dispersed to colleges around the country, I lost track of most of our class until about 1968, when I began writing the class newsletter. Scott was one of the most regular, reliable contributors to the newsletter.  Between letters he or Nancy wrote me and their family Christmas newsletters, I heard from him about once a year, on average, for nearly 30 years.
From those letters, occasional notes I took when I talked with Scott during fundraising telethons, e-mails he sent me late in life, and a long autobiographic memoir that he dictated in the last years of his life, I have assembled this biography.
My first letter from Scott dates from early 1964.  Several of us were trying to arrange a class get-together, at Frank Rosenberg’s family’s place on Long Island.  Scott suggested we might try to meet at the World’s Fair in New York that summer, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to come.  (As it turned out, Frank, Joe Coffee and I did meet at the World’s Fair in summer of ’64, but I don’t now recall whether anyone else from the class was able to join us.)  Scott filled me in on his college experience so far.  He had not declared a major yet but was thinking he’d take a general agricultural course at UVM.  He had decided that engineering did not suit him.  He had taken a semester off, as he felt he was not doing well enough (he told me he needed to learn to study), but said the time off had let him learn how to live on his own, a little. 
Except for a couple of Christmas cards, I didn’t hear from Scott again until 1968, when I took over as class scribe.  He responded to my first request for news for a newsletter by sending me a long letter, catching me up on several years.  He and Nancy (nee McIntosh) were married in August of 1967 (they met on a blind date arranged by one of Scott’s college friends.)  In spring of ’68 they were living in a roomy apartment in Burlington.  Nancy was finishing her senior year as a history major at UVM, and was learning how to ski cross country, at Scott’s insistence.  Scott was in graduate school, getting a master’s degree in dairy manufacturing, doing a thesis on keeping quality of cottage cheese.  He added, I thought with tongue-in-cheek (Scott’s humor tended to be either corny or so sly sometimes you’d almost miss it) that he was also doing some work on improving pizza cheese, in case Pierre Loomis wanted to go into the pizza business—an offer I never passed on to the Wop, perhaps altering the course of many lives.  Scott wasn’t sure what kind of career he wanted, but was thinking about working either in the dairy industry or a related food industry.  A more immediate concern was his draft board; Scott had lost his student deferment and was hurrying to finish his thesis, expecting he might be drafted as soon as that June.

Scott ran into Frank Rosenberg often. Frank had a major customer of his father’s company up in Burlington, and often skied in  Vermont.  Scott and Nancy went down to Darrow for Alumni Day in 1967—see photo at left—and he went as often as he could, over the years.  He told me he had seen Frank and Joe Coffee at Frank’s 4th-of-July party on Long Island the summer before, and hoped Frank would host another that summer.
Scott told me he had been co-captain of the UVM ski team his senior year and had made the all-Eastern team.  As a grad student he had been focused on his studies and had done much less competitive racing.  He felt as if he was “beginning to grow old” and it was getting harder to compete.  He said his parents were going to Europe in June; he and Nancy were going to take care of the farm while they were away, and Scott was going to learn how to milk a cow—something he hadn’t managed to do before then.
The next thing I got was a note from Nancy, congratulating Alice and me on our marriage (in February 1969).  She told me Scott was in OCS training at Fort Belvoir, VA. Not long after that, I got a letter from Scott, who told me that, as he’d feared, his draft board had gobbled him up.  He had not finished grad school.  Rather than be drafted as a private, he had enlisted the previous September, with the option to go to OCS.  He’d spent basic training and AIT at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, training to be a combat engineer.  He had a Christmas leave at home and a short break between AIT and OCS, during which he skied in Vermont.  He was finding OCS difficult but was counting on his stubbornness to get him through it.  He was unhappy that he’d miss Alumni Day at Darrow this year, and wondered where the Army would send him.
The next spring, Scott and Nancy both responded to my request for news for the 1970 edition of the newsletter.  Scott was on his first tour of duty, in Korea, and said bluntly that he didn’t care for army life at all, and especially didn’t like Korea.  He felt the Koreans were robbing the US blind but, for political reasons, no one was allowed to say anything about it.  (See Scott’s autobiographical memoir for a more mellowed account of this same situation, as he viewed it from 30 years later.)  The farmer in him, however, did find the planting and harvest of the rice crop to be “interesting agricultural feats.”
Scott had met Nancy in Hawaii for a two-week leave in February/March that year, the bright spot of his tour to date.  He had gone through Japan and tried to visit Kazu, but missed him by a couple of days.  He was looking forward to his next tour of duty, a two-year posting that he hoped would be in Alaska.  He was planning to try out for the US biathlon team; if he made the team, he’d spend his two years skiing and shooting; if he didn’t, he’d be an engineer officer for two years.  After the Army, he planned to go back to school and finish his master’s.
Nancy didn’t know I had heard from Scott, and she sent me her own version of events.  The two versions matched very closely—a sign of a good marriage!  But Nancy’s letter was a couple of weeks after Scott’s, and she told me he had been accepted for the US biathlon team, which meant he had a chance to compete for a spot on the Olympic team.  Scott was supposed to report to Ft. Richardson, Alaska in August; Nancy was expecting him home in July, and they were going to drive from Vermont to Alaska.  Nancy told me that Scott’s brother Paul  (Darrow ’64) was also in the Army  and also stationed in Korea, and they got to see each other often.  While Scott was away, Nancy was living with her parents and teaching elementary school.

Scott and Nancy’s Christmas card in 1970 was a photo of a moose in front of a gorgeous Alaskan mountain landscape, a double-exposure Scott had done.  The news on the back was good—he was indeed at Fort Richardson, training for the biathlon team, and Nancy was with him, a highly welcome arrangement after almost a year of living half a world apart.
The following March, Scott wrote me for the ’71 newsletter, reporting on a controversy in Alaska over whether to build an oil pipeline across the state.  Scott felt the pipeline should be built—through Canada!  He didn’t think oil should be shipped from Valdez, saying he’d seen too many tankers break up.  (Pretty good crystal ball, eh?)  He complained that they had had very little snow in the Anchorage area and that the weather had been too cold (-30 to -40 degrees most days, -71degrees one day), which made for lousy skiing, “ice on rocks” as he put it.  He said he was nonetheless burning off a lot of calories and getting into great shape in his biathlon training.  He had weighed 182 in Korea, but was now down to 154.  He was feeling the three-year layoff during grad school, army training and Korea, when he’d been unable to ski competitively, and still needed to build up his strength, but he liked this a lot more than Korea.  He was not sure his chances of making the Olympic team were very good, because of his years away from the sport and the greater experience many of his teammates had with international competition.  But he was hoping to get to Sapporo in 1972 and to visit Kazu, whose cattle ranch was not far from site of the winter Olympics.  He reported that he and Nancy had no children yet (despite what he hinted was plenty of trying!) but had acquired a pair of collies, Digby and Sitka.   They were looking forward to his getting out of the Army and coming home in the summer of 1972, and hoping to make it to our 10th reunion.
Another year went by, another newsletter loomed, and another letter arrived from Scott, in March 1972.  The good news was, he was getting out of the Army on April 30, leaving Alaska and driving home, by way of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and a ski race in Steamboat Springs, CO.  They’d be back in Vermont in May.  The bad news was, he had not made the Olympic team, but he’d had a good year and a half in Alaska, training for it, and had much enjoyed a trip the US team had made to Lebanon, for the NATO Military Championships.  He’d also been running, including two marathons.  He said the past year’s training had been an exciting time for him but a fairly lonely time for Nancy, as training and competitions took him to various parts of Alaska, Colorado, and Wyoming, where the national championships and Olympic trials were held.  Scott had finished 16th in the final, championship race, but he was proud of his performance.  Although he’d skied poorly (had a wax problem), he had shot a perfect score—20 bull’s eyes—which had never been done before in a championship race.  While Scott was off skiing, Nancy was working in a bank and taking care of the dogs.

In June of 1972, Alice and I drove across the country to see family, visit some sights along the way, and attend our 10th reunion at Darrow.  Scott and Nancy were among the not-very-large number of classmates who showed up, but those of us who did had a great time.  At first Scott didn’t recognize me, with my grad-school beard.  (I was also taller and heavier than I’d been when we graduated.)  Scott wanted to see the inside of the Shakers’ Great Stone Barn on the North Family property, which the school had recently acquired, and John Joline offered us a tour, but couldn’t find the key, so we figured we’d wait for another time.  A few months later, though, Scott sent me a news clipping—the barn had been destroyed by a fire “of suspicious origin,” according to the local fire chief.
In September, 1972, when Scott sent that news clipping, Nancy was working in a bank and Scott was helping his father on the farm.  When the corn harvest was over, he was planning to look for a job and go back into training for skiing and biathlon competitions the coming winter.  Six months later, as I gathered news for the 1973 newsletter, Scott reported that he was still looking for the right job.  He had worked all summer on his father’s farm, then tried to get an Industrial Arts teaching job, but not been hired.  He was managing a ski touring center near Mt. Snow, a fun job but one that prevented him from training for or competing in ski races much himself.  An early spring had brought ski season to an end, so Scott was unemployed again.  He was thinking about going to work with his father but hadn’t made up his mind yet  The exciting news—Nancy was going to quit her job, because she was expecting their first child in June.
In that same letter, Scott gave me one of the many lessons about the economics of dairy farming he was to provide over the years.  He said the price of milk his father was getting was the same then as it had been in the 1940’s, but in that span the price of a tractor had risen from $1,600 to $12,000.  He said “somebody’s getting the money,” but it wasn’t the dairy farmers.  He and Nancy were planting a huge vegetable garden that spring to try to save as much as they could on grocery bills.

Bryan Russell Leake actually arrived a bit (nine weeks) ahead of schedule, on May 15, 1973—three days after Darrow Alumni Day.  He spent his first month in the “preemie” ward at the hospital but soon began to thrive and came home.  Their Christmas card that year was an autumn picture of the proud parents, a contented-looking baby, and two rather jealous-looking collies, no longer the “children.”
Maybe it was the pressure of having a child to support, but when he wrote me with news for the ’74 newsletter, Scott told me that after Bryan was born, he had agreed to work with his father on the farm for a year, after which he’d decide if that was what he really wanted to do.  By spring of ’74, with the year almost up, he’d made up his mind: As he put it, “The Farmer” has become the farmer!  He had discovered that he enjoyed it—despite the long hours and the hard work.  He expected to become partners with his father and take over the farm in a few years, and said “I believe I have found what I want to do.”  He said it had been a warm, largely snow-free winter, he had been able to do very little skiing, and he was glad he wasn’t running the ski center that year.  Bryan was growing (crawling by then) and they’d been showing their dogs; Sitka had won a prize or two and had had a litter of four male pups, two of whom were still looking for homes.

In March of 1975, Scott wrote that Nancy was expecting again—due in April.  Bryan was going on two and adding lot of joy to their lives, and Scott and his father had gone into partnership.  Scott had seen Jim Mithoefer several times skiing (Jim was on the ski patrol at Bromley) and had skied with Frank and Ellie Rosenberg, who had come up to Vermont for a ski weekend and a visit.  This was John Joline’s last year at Darrow, and Alice and I had moved back east; I was now living in Washington, DC.  I was trying to organize a Class of ’62 gathering at Darrow that spring, to bid John farewell.  Scott said he hoped he could make it, and would unless the weather was so perfect he had to be planting corn or haying instead (another lesson on dairy farming).  As you can see from the photo, it was a gorgeous day when we gathered at Darrow in June, and Scott made it.
Jeffrey Kyle Leake arrived, on schedule, on April 16, 1975.  In Scott’s next “news” letter, the following winter, he reported that Jeff had “adapted well to farm life:” he was allergic to all milk products and was enjoying a diet of soy milk.  Bryan, going on three, was beginning to help cut wood and do kitchen chores.  The farming was going well; Scott said they actually made a little money that year, because of a milk price increase and the expansion of their herd to 75 milking cows and 130 total animals.  They had bought a new tractor, which saved a lot of time as they planted, grew and harvested corn and hay.  He was still enjoying his work.  Nancy was “up to her ears” raising the two boys but was also getting active in several local organizations, such as the Red Cross blood drive.
The next year, 1977, brought our 15th reunion, but only a few of us made it (I remember seeing Howdy and Jerrie Davis there, not much else.  I was going through a divorce from Alice that spring and the rest is kind of a blur….)  Scott said he could make it if it rained, but otherwise he’d probably be haying that day.  Family life was progressing normally and Bryan was learning to swim in their farm pond.  Scott said they’d had another fairly good year with the farm; they’d had good luck in terms of timing of rain and dry periods relative to the corn and hay harvest cycle, reminding me again how much farmers depend on nature’s caprice.  He said inflation was driving the prices of most of their equipment purchases and supplies sky-high, which forced them to produce more to struggle to break even, but this ended up increasing supply and driving down the price of milk, so it was a no-win cycle.  He and Nancy had managed to escape for a week, though, for a Bermuda vacation, their first real vacation since they had driven home from Alaska.  Scott had skied in the Washington’s Birthday cross-country race in Vermont that year, where he ran into John Brodhead.  CDB was also in the race but Scott had had to leave before Charles finished; the cows needed milking.  Later, he found out he’d left only about five minutes before Charles crossed the finish line.

The next news, in early 1978, was almost too exciting: Twins!!  Michael Scott and Jill Ivy Leake arrived 15 minutes apart on January 18th.  With four kids and 200 or so cows to look after, Scott seems to have been too busy to write for a while.  The next news I got from him came from a phone call I made in December of 1979, at a Darrow telethon from New York City.  Scott said “No way are we going to have more kids!”  Four was a handful, but they were delighted to have a girl now as well as their boys.  They’d had another good year farming, and had hired a young man to help.  Scott said he was still skiing, “for fun,” but that his training consisted of “jogging to the barn and back.”
In January 1980, I went to Vermont with Jane Casey, a woman I was seeing at the time, for some cross-country skiing, and we stayed for a couple of nights at Scott’s farm.  Scott and Nancy put us up in the “Captain’s Cottage,” a second house on the property, up the hill from the main farmhouse.  I remember getting up in the middle of the night to put more wood in the pot-bellied stove that heated the place.  In the morning, we helped Scott (well to be honest, we watched Scott) do the chores—feeding the cows hay, spreading silage for them.  That afternoon, Scott somehow found time to take us out cross-country skiing with Bryan and Jeff (both of whom skied much better than I did!)  We got back in time for the afternoon milking, and Scott fed us warm, raw milk, fresh from the cow.  That treat, and Nancy’s home cooking, gave us a real “taste” of Vermont dairy farm life.  It was just a brief exposure to Scott’s life on the farm, but enough to see that he loved it and was good at it.  I recorded the events with my camera and these are the only photos I have of Scott doing two things he loved most—farming and skiing.

At Christmastime in 1980, Nancy began sending me her annual family Christmas letter, a regular source of news.  These letters provided a picture of stable, happy, active family life and hard farm work that was a reliable constant, over the years.  In 1980, the news was that their dairy herd had grown to 90 milkers, and Scott had converted their farmhouse to all-wood fuel, saving money but expanding their chores.  Nancy was involved in volunteer activities—humane society, book club, a mothers of twins club—and enjoyed occasional evenings out with adult company.  The kids were going to school (Bryan in 2nd grade, Jeff in kindergarten), doing 4H projects, playing sports.  Bryan and Jeff were showing talent as swimmers. The twins, called the “dynamic duo” by their mother, were “literally going in opposite directions, all the time.”  At three years old, both were already “swimming like fish.”  The year had some challenges and sad moments as well.  Scott’s mother passed away, and Michael had needed open-heart surgery to correct a congenital defect.  He came home “better than new.”  Nancy had been on a diet and had lost 65 pounds!  Digby and Sitka were growing old gracefully, and they had a third collie, Happy.
1981 was a quiet year, with no dramatic events, according to Nancy’s Christmas letter.  Bryan, now eight, was a cub scout, had been away to camp, and had taken up running.  He had competed with his dad in a four-mile road race that May, was interested in science, especially the space program, and was doing chores around the farm and earning some money of his own.  Jeff, who complained about too much school work (first grade can be real tough) and was interested in art, had also taken up running, but swimming was his forte.  The twins were in nursery school; Mike had recovered fully from his heart surgery, and Jill had gotten her two front teeth knocked out while rough-housing with her brothers.  The whole family had skied whenever possible, and Scott, Bryan and Jeff had done some cross-country racing.  Scott and Nancy had enjoyed Bermuda so much a few years before that they went back, this time taking Bryan and Jeff along (the twins got a week with their grandma, almost as much fun in its own way.)  In July they had all vacationed at the Connecticut shore and at Lake Winnepesaukee in NH.  The milking herd had grown to 100 Holsteins, and Scott was ever busier.
Soon enough it was 1982, the year of our 20th reunion.  When I spoke to Scott that winter he said he was definitely coming, and joked that if we had such a great turnout that there wasn’t room for us all in the dorms, we could come up to his farm and help plant corn!  In March, they took a trip to Disney World, and with a pass wangled for them by their Congressman, visited the space center at Cape Kennedy and saw the shuttle launch—a real kick for Bryan, and they were featured in a front-page story in the Bennington paper.  
These two photos were taken at our 20th reunion.  Scott came down with Jeff (I think that’s Jeff!), just for the day on Saturday, but Nancy and the other kids couldn’t make it.  As we all did, he had a great time and we enjoyed catching up with him.

In the fall of 1982, Sharon and I drove up to Bennington and spent a weekend visiting with Scott and his family on the farm.  We helped with some chores (I hauled some wood, and we watched as Scott milked the cows).  We hiked in the woods, up a mountain behind the farm, to an old graveyard.  Having visited twice in three years, I expected to come back to Scott and Nancy’s farm again before long, but as it turned out, that was the last time I was there.
My next recorded communication from the Leakes came at Christmas, 1983.  Nancy described the year as hectic but fun.  Bryan was still a “space nut,” had bought himself a telescope with his earnings from farm chores, and was learning the trombone.  Jeff was playing football, running and skiing and had been winning races left and right in his first year on the town swim team.  He had his art and raising calves for hobbies and had taken a vacation in Puerto Rico with his Mom.  Michael and Jill were in kindergarten and “very independent.”  Michael had begun helping around the farm and enjoyed math and reading, while Jill, ever the tomboy, was learning a few “girly” things.  As Nancy put it, “She’s the youngest gal on the swim team and doesn’t let too many people beat her.”  Nancy was very active in various clubs, and Scott was now “on his own” with the farm, as his father had officially retired.  They now had 150 Holsteins and several hired helpers, but the work seemed never-ending.  Digby and Sitka had both passed away at the age of 13, and a pair of cats had joined the family.
A year later, in her Christmas 1984 letter, those trends continued, Nancy reported.  Scott was busy on the farm “all the time,” she said, but still managed to keep in “disgustingly” good shape.  He was competing in local running and cross-country ski events, and taught downhill skiing in the school sports program.  He was on several farm-related boards that, Nancy hinted, used time he should have spent sleeping.  Nancy enjoyed her days with all the kids in school, was teaching CPR and first aid, chairing the county blood drive, and doing other volunteer activities.  She was also officiating at swim meets, caning chairs, and substitute-teaching.  The kids’ sports news centered on swimming, where Jill, Jeff and Bryan had all competed in the Vermont state meet and in several New England invitational championship meets.  Jill and Jeff both finished in the top 10 in their events (out of 75+ swimmers in each event).  At the age of six, Jill won her races in freestyle and butterfly, and placed well in backstroke and breaststroke.  The whole family continued to ski in cross-country races in winter, while the kids played baseball, tennis and track in the spring, and took golf lessons in summer.  Bryan and Jeff were playing soccer, and Bryan had taken up basketball as well.  Bryan had also attended a computer camp, and he and Jeff had done some wilderness camping.  All were doing well in school.  For the first time, Mike and Jill were in separate classes—and loved it.
At the end of 1986, Nancy apologized for not sending out a 1985 holiday letter (and with the activity level just described above, one can understand why).  Things were busy as ever, she said.  Scott was still farming and would do so “as long as people keep drinking milk.”  He was still involved in farm groups, and teaching downhill skiing, but not cross-country—he felt the newer techniques had passed him by.  Nancy remained busy with her many community activities, serving as an officer of several volunteer organizations, and had been elected to the school board.  Bryan was on the high honor roll in 8th grade and had been chosen as a page for the Vermont state legislature; he was going to live in Montpelier for eight weeks and be immersed in the political process.  Swimming remained his “main” sport and he’d been named one of the top swimmers in the New England region.  He was also serious about soccer (attending a camp) and enjoyed track, tennis and skiing.  Jeff, in 6th grade, was sometimes “more social than studious” and was involved in an exchange program with a school in New York City.  He was taking drum lessons, and learning to skateboard and snowboard, and had won a medal in every event he swam in at the New England championships.  He was also the only 5th grader on the district-wide track team, the previous spring.  He also played soccer and golf, and he’d won a junior PGA tournament.  He’d gone to soccer camp and swimming camp over the summer.  Mike and Jill, at age 8, were both “swimming dynamos” and had been to the New England Championships; Jill had not lost a race in more than a year, and Mike had set a state record.  All four kids were named to the 40-person Vermont All-Star swim team in 1986.  Nancy asked to be forgiven for bragging!

The next period of their life was so full of work and family activities that I didn’t hear much from Scott or Nancy for a few years.  Scott wrote on a Christmas card in 1988 that he was looking forward to our next Darrow reunion.  Nancy’s Christmas letter in 1989 was once again filled with kids’ accomplishments. Bryan, now a junior in HS, was starting to look at colleges. He had been elected to the national honor society as a sophomore, was on the varsity tennis and cross-country teams, and continued to excel at swimming.   He had had non-farm summer jobs (working as a life guard and at a tennis tournament) and was enjoying the freedom of driving.  Jeff, a freshman in HS, was swimming, of course, and also doing very well at golf and soccer, plus playing drum in the marching band.  Mike and Jill (still a unit in their mother’s newsletters) were in sixth grade, and still busy with athletic pursuits.  They were also involved in a theatrical group that “helped troubled youths.”  Scott was computerizing farm operations and chairing the county stabilization board, while Nancy was still on the school board and had joined the hospital board and the town recreation commission as well.  Scott and Nancy spent a week in February with Scott’s father and his second wife, down at their winter place on Sanibel Island, Florida.  At Christmastime, they were all praying for snow.
Most of those holiday newsletters contained a family photo, often of just the four kids.  This is one of them; I’m not sure exactly which year it’s from.  The 1990 letter contained more of the same kinds of good news.  Bryan was a senior and looking forward to choosing a college.  He had been profiled in the local paper for being a “renaissance man,” with his high academic standing, varsity letters in four sports (he was the first in his school’s history to do that), and honors as one of the top swimmers in New England.  Jeff was a sophomore, competing in track, soccer and golf, swimming, of course, still “banging on the drums,” and waiting for snow so he could go snowboarding.  Mike and Jill were both playing soccer as 7th graders and winning trophies at swim meets.  All four kids were on the honor roll and all four were once again headed for the New England swimming championships in the spring.   The highlight of Scott’s year had been a trip to  San Francisco  to visit his brother, Paul.  Nancy and her sister had snuck away to Bermuda for a week away from winter, husbands and kids.  But Scott and Nancy had spent the rest of their year immersed in farm work and service to local organizations, as had been the pattern for many years.
In 1991, the pattern changed.  In the first handwritten letter I’d had from him in more than a decade, that October, Scott explained that life had thrown him a curve.  He told of suddenly experiencing unbelievable headaches in the last week of June, learning he had a meningioma—a benign brain tumor—and having a mass the size of a softball surgically removed from his brain on July 5.  The pressure from the tumor and the trauma of the surgery had “frayed” his other brain cells, as he put it, and Scott had spent a long “vacation” in the hospital and rehab center in Troy, NY.  On August 27, the day after their 24th anniversary, Scott and Nancy had decided he’d recover better at home, and he’d left the hospital.  Back on the farm, he reported that he still had a long way to recover.  As Scott almost always did, he found a silver lining, saying his stay in the rehab center had made him more sensitive to the plight of nursing home patients and other people with handicaps.  He said he was mending physically, but still experiencing some cognitive dysfunctions.  He was getting “cognitive therapy” and basically had to relearn how to manage a farm; he was also having trouble being organized and aware of time. His father had come out of retirement to help run the dairy operation, although his dad had had hip replacement surgery himself the year before.  The kids and a couple of hired hands were also helping to keep the farm going while Scott recovered from his surgery.

His letter really threw me for a loop, making me realize that none of us is as invulnerable as we may like to think we are.  Scott was looking forward to our 30th reunion at Darrow in the spring of 1992, and when the time came, he was one of 14 classmates who shared a wonderful reunion.  As he had done in the past, Scott just drove down for the day on Saturday, without family this time.  It was great to see him, and he seemed physically fit, though still not completely his old self.
While Scott was having what he called an “exciting” year, the rest of his family was also busy with their usual activities, as well as some unusual ones brought on by Scott’s brain surgery.  Bryan had enrolled at UMass Amherst where he was planning to major in math, and was on the varsity swim team, which had won five consecutive NCAA Division I championships.  He had taken up cycling and competed in several triathlons.  Jeff had a successful varsity soccer season and was an officer of the band, and continued to break records and win medals in swimming and golf.  Michael and Jill, in 8th grade, were each excelling in their own ways.  Mike had become an teriffic drummer (tutored by Jeff) and had been “drafted” into the HS marching band; he was goalie on his soccer team and still burning up the swimming pool.  Jill had a great year in athletics: high scorer on her soccer and basketball teams, continued swimming achievements, named a “sportsgirl of the year” by Teen Magazine.  She was also a clarinetist in the concert band and had some of her art work exhibited at the Bennington museum.  Nancy was busy as ever with her volunteer activities and officiating swim meets.
Life, it turned out, was not done throwing the Leakes curve balls.  As Scott describes it in his own memoir, by the fall of 1992, he had begun to experience loss of strength in his hands and arms; a year or so later, he was diagnosed with ALS.  1992 went by without a holiday newsletter from Nancy.  When she sent her next one, in December of 1993, we learned that she was battling breast cancer.  She didn’t mention Scott’s ALS; one devastating bit of news was probably enough.  Nancy said she had spent six months in a hospital in Boston, preparing for, receiving and recovering from a bone marrow transplant.  Although she felt as if she had lost a big chunk of her life, she said her cancer seemed to be in remission and things were going pretty well.  Scott had played “Mr. Mom” as well as Mr. Farmer all summer and fall—with lots of help from the kids.  The children’s lives went on in many ways as before: Bryan was a junior at UMass, swimming and competing in triathlons.  Jeff had graduated from high school and was a freshman at Springfield College (Dave Griswold’s alma mater), swimming and planning to study sports medicine.  Jill and Michael were sophomores in high school and busy with sports and music; Jill had been a starter, as a freshman, on the varsity soccer, basketball and track teams.  Mike was a class officer, on the soccer team and a percussionist in the band, and had become one of the premier backstrokers in New England.  Although these accomplishments filled the family with pride, their focus had now shifted, with Nancy and Scott’s health taking over center stage.

That 1993 family letter was the last one I got from Nancy.  In 1995, Scott and the kids sent out cards with a note enclosed, sadly informing us that they had “lost Nancy to a long and bitter fight with cancer” on June 30 of that year.  It included this photo of Scott with the family.  Bryan was now completing his senior year at UMass, where he was a dorm RA and planned to compete on the cycling team.  Jeff, who had transferred to UMass, was an RA too and had taken up photography.  Mike continued to compete in swimming and had been accepted at Albany Pharmacy College.  Jill had developed her artistic talent, co-captained the soccer team, and torn her ACL in the last game.  She was recuperating from knee surgery and hoping to follow her brothers to UMass the next fall.  Scott had been to San Francisco to visit Paul, and they had hiked in Yosemite National Park; Scott was awed by its beauty.
In 1994, as his ALS got worse and Nancy’s life ebbed away, a series of unhappy events made Scott realize that he could no longer manage a dairy farm.  In August of that year, they auctioned off the cows and equipment, one of the saddest moments of Scott’s life.  With no farm to run and a disease that kept him from going out and finding other work, Scott was able to spend most of his time caring for and supporting Nancy, a role-reversal he deeply appreciated.  After Nancy died, and as Scott lost more of his mobility, the family pulled together and supported each other, while the kids’ lives kept moving forward.  Jill was awarded a scholarship to attend Syracuse.  Michael, who was married during his senior year in high school and had a daughter, Emma, Scott’s first grandchild, lived in an apartment in their farmhouse and took care of some of Scott’s medical needs as he prepared to go to pharmacy school in Albany.  Bryan was graduated from UMass and spent a few months at home before moving on to the next stage of his life.
As Scott’s condition progressed, he could still walk, but had lost almost all hand and arm function.  He needed full-time care, more than his family could provide, so he made arrangements for home health aides.  On July 5, 1996, Scott met Wendy Hoffmeister when she showed up at his door to work as his first night aide.  As Scott tells the story, she had to undress him and put him into his pajamas, and they were both embarrassed nearly to death.  But as time progressed, their devotion to each other grew.
Scott’s memoir provides a detailed personal account of how he refused to give in to the disease and Wendy lovingly supported and cared for him, as they found many new ways to adapt to the limits ALS imposed.  Through and with Wendy, Scott was able to travel often, to Maine, to Florida to visit his dad and tour the Everglades and the Florida Keys, and to other parts of New England.  She and her family fed him his first vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner, in 1997, and several more thereafter.
Scott competed in his last road races in 1997, four years after his ALS diagnosis.  He was unable to run the entire distance, but he finished the four-mile Bennington Road Race and the “Race for the Cure,” a 5K event for breast cancer survivors and victims, which Scott had run for many years in support of, and then in memory of, Nancy.
On one of their trips to Maine, Wendy took Scott to a 26-day Seventh Day Adventist “camp meeting.” He decided, as he put it in his memoir, to become re-baptized through total immersion, join the church, and marry Wendy.  They were married on November 21, 1998, with only Wendy’s family and church friends in attendance.  Scott’s memoir tells stories of happy times they spent together, traveling, visiting friends and family, making music (Wendy and her family, that is), participating in church activities.
At some point, not clear from the records I have, Scott needed to live closer to medical facilities he depended on (in the Albany area), and he and Wendy moved to Cambridge, NY.  Scott’s life on Mountain Meadows Farm had reached its end.

As Scott’s ALS progressed, he was no longer able to write or type, but in 1998 I did get a Christmas card, with a brief note, written by one of his caregivers, saying the family were all quite well.  In 2000, though, I got my first e-mail from Scott.  ALS had become the central theme of his life; even his e-mail user ID was “S with ALS@.”  But he remained in remarkably good spirits and he had a computer that could turn his speech into written text, so he re-connected with the world by e-mail.
In one of his e-mails, in 2000, Scott brought me up to date on the family.  His father and stepmother were living in Williamstown during the summer, and in Florida in winter (Scott and Wendy spent his last few winters in Florida as well).  Bryan was 27, living in Bennington and working as an EMT and in the ER at the hospital, while planning to go to medical school.  Jeff, 25, was teaching in Bennington, living at home and competing in bicycle races.  Michael, 22, was finishing pharmacy school and he and his wife, Lena, had given Emma a brother and Scott a second grandchild, Preston.  Jill had finished college and was the director of aquatics at the Bennington recreation center.

Scott’s memoir shows that he took pleasure in all manner of small things, and kept his mind active and his spirits up as his body gradually stopped working.  He remained loyal to Darrow and he and Wendy came down to reunions in 2001, where I met her for the first time.  He was thrilled to show me how his power wheelchair worked (it was breath-controlled), and he matter-of-factly explained to me what the course of his disease would be like.  He had lost all use of his arms and legs, and his head was held up with a brace. Eventually, he said, his chest muscles would weaken to the point where he could no longer breathe, and although there were breathing-assistance devices, eventually, that’s how he’d die.  He explained this without a trace of self-pity or bitterness.
Two major highlights made Scott’s final year exciting and fulfilling for him.  He took part in the US Marine Corps marathon in Washington, DC, in October of 2001.  He was pushed along in his wheel-chair by members of his family, and his participation helped raise $5,000 for ALS research.  The other highlight, of course, was our 40th reunion.  Scott had vowed to be there if he had to lie on a stretcher in an ambulance the whole way.  In fact, Wendy drove him down in the van, and although he arrived a little after our class picture was taken on the Meeting House steps (and is thus not in that “official” shot), we all swarmed around him in his power chair, and took lots of “unofficial” pictures (two of which are copied here, and others are on the 40th reunion page of the class website).  He was so happy to be there, he was beaming.  We hugged a lot and we all knew we were saying goodbye.  We were so grateful to have been able to do that.

Scott’s long and courageous battle came to an end on September 13, 2002.  A memorial service was held in Bennington on September 28, and Carl Braun, Bob Lang and Carl Sharpe attended, representing the Class.  We also worked with Scott’s family to endow a memorial scholarship fund at Darrow, and this year (2005), we heard from the first student to benefit from that scholarship.  If there are road races in heaven, I know Scott is feeling strong and running free, crossing the finish line before the next runner has even come over the last hill.  May he forever rest in peace.

 In August 2003, Sharon, Daniel and I dropped Sarah off at college in upstate New York, then drove up to Lake Winnepesaukee, in NH. We passed through Bennington and drove east out of town along Route 9, aka Woodford Road, Scott’s home address, most of his life.  We went by the spot of Scott’s old farm, and although I didn’t stop to look around, it seemed as if it has changed a great deal.  Scott’s cousin Leslie Safford has told me that members of Scott’s family—other cousins—are living there now, have been fixing up the barns, and are growing food for their family, and raising a few sheep, pigs and chickens.  So, although the dairy operation is gone, the land remains a working farm, and that eases the sadness I felt that day, knowing that the life Scott and Nancy lived there had vanished.
In summing up Scott’s life, a phrase that leaps to mind is “What you see is what you get.”  Scott was an extraordinary person, almost completely without guile.  He loved nature, his family, and his work.  I don’t think he had a mean bone in his body.  He lived a simple, clean, healthy life, and enjoyed hard physical labor, while also using his mind and getting a solid education.  He achieved near-greatness as an athlete, and continued to ski and run cross-country most of his life.  He and Nancy had a long, devoted marriage and raised four extraordinarily talented, accomplished children.  In the wake of losing Nancy and finding himself facing a fatal disease, he looked forward, found a loving second marriage, and lived nine years with ALS, long enough to see his first grandchildren.  Even after his physical health was gone, Scott kept himself mentally and emotionally strong and made healthy choices, becoming a vegetarian and getting as much exercise as his body could perform.  When we last saw him, his face and his smile seemed to have changed very little from what we knew when he was a student at Darrow.  As he approached the end of his life, his renewed Christian faith helped him cheerfully accept whatever hand God had dealt him.  He found joy in little things, in family, in the love Wendy and he shared, and remained happy, fulfilled, hopeful and at peace with himself, even in the face of an inexorable disease. When my own time comes, I can only hope I can face it with as much peace and class as Scott did.  Our lives are richer for having known him, and we will always miss him.

Link: Donations were made in Scott's memory to this organization.

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