‘She made things happen’
Lake Placid native Tina Leonard remembered as fearless, kind
LAKE PLACID — Independent. Fearless. Stubborn.
When it came to Tina Leonard’s eight years of blindness, these are some of the words that describe her best. The Lake Placid real estate broker — who died unexpectedly Sunday, Sept. 26 at the age of 63 — didn’t let blindness stop her from establishing her own business, giving back to the community or being the best mother, wife, grandmother and sister she could be.
“She didn’t let her troubles in life define her. She still found a way to persevere,” said Heather Perkins, co-president of the Lake Placid Rotary Club, where Leonard was a member for almost 30 years.
In 2013, Leonard lost most of her sight due to complications with glaucoma. Even though she had to make major adjustments in her life, she never slowed down. In her own words — on the Tina Leonard Real Estate website on Sept. 14 — she began her first and only blog entry with a quick introduction:
“I may be blind but my name is still Tina Leonard.
“I’ve learned to be blind and therefore I can help people understand things like being patient, learning to be detail oriented and learning to listen amongst many other things.”
With the blog, she wanted to show the public what it’s like for her to live a normal life “and to help people understand how to treat others with respect.”
In a three-part series in the Lake Placid News in 2018, Leonard shared stories about her daily struggles with being visually impaired. At the time, she had received a $10,000 pair of eSight glasses, and after six months, she learned that although they helped her in some ways, they weren’t going to restore her sight.
“I’m tired of being blind,” she said in December 2018. “It’s hard for other people to understand. I try to be upbeat, but I was very frustrated the other day. When I first get up in the morning, my eyes are the worst, and when I got up and I’m walking from my bedroom to the bathroom in my own house and I’m thinking, ‘People have no idea how hard it is to be blind.’ Everything takes so much longer.”
Yet there were some perks with having the eSight glasses.
“I’ve gotten to see my granddaughter, and I’ve gotten to see people’s faces,” she said. “So for those reasons alone, I think they’re certainly worth it.”
In the past three years, Leonard’s sight didn’t get any better, but she continued to grow her real estate firm and be an active member of the Lake Placid community, specifically with her work in the Rotary Club.
In that respect, she could also be described as being “inspirational,” even “heroic,” as Rotary Club Co-President Harris Semegram called her.
“That’s really personal heroism because … some people would be just defeated and resign themselves to just falling by the wayside, as it were, but she did not let that stop her,” he said.
Service above self
Tina Marie Wilson was born on March 18, 1958, in Lake Placid, the daughter of Donald Wilson and Gayle Wilson Trombley. She was a 1975 graduate of the Lake Placid High School and married Joseph Leonard in 1979. She worked at local businesses such as Howard Johnson’s restaurant and Key Bank before pursuing a career in real estate, on staff for many years at The Prudential Terry Horrocks Real Estate office on Main Street. In 2016, she opened Tina Leonard Real Estate in an office at the back of her McKinley Street home, specializing in real estate sales and rentals.
While Leonard was well known in the real estate field — being active with the Northern Adirondack Board of Realtors (2000-2001 president) and a 2002 NABOR Realtor of the Year — she was best known around the community as a person who helped others.
That’s when words like “kind,” “generous” and “caring” come into the picture.
“I think the world of Tina,” Perkins said. “She has done so much for our community over the years. She’s always cared about the little person and making sure people find homes. She really cared about everybody.”
And no matter which group she joined, she always managed to become its leader. She served as president of organizations such as the Rotary Club, the Adirondack Business and Professional Women’s Club, the Gold Medal BNI chapter and the Thomas Shipman Sr. Memorial Youth Center’s Board of Directors.
“She doesn’t give up. She’ll push and push. She made things happen,” Perkins said.
When Lake Placid youth police officer Thomas Shipman Sr. died unexpectedly in 1995, a group of residents banded together to build a youth center, which was Shipman’s dream. Leonard soon became the board’s president.
“She just picked it up and ran with it and figured out how to do it,” Perkins said. “There were so many people involved with that, but it was really her picking it up when he passed away and making sure that that dream didn’t die and made sure that it got done.”
The Shipman Youth Center opened in June 1999.
“It’s been a long three years,” Leonard told the News at the time. “It’s been challenging … but it’s worth it.”
With her many contributions to the community over the years, friends and family members have known the “tireless” and “hard-working” side of Leonard.
She was also active in the Lake Placid Pee Wee Association and a proud charter member of the Tri-Lakes Business and Networking Group, serving as area director, president, vice president, membership committee member, education coordinator and a mentor to new members.
When thinking about the Rotary Club meetings, Perkins thought of another word to describe Leonard: “creative.”
“She just always had great ideas,” Perkins said. “We’d say, ‘How are we going to pull this off?’ And Tina would find a way to pull it off. … I feel like we are at such a loss, losing her. She was a huge part of our club and how we did the things we did.”
A member of the Rotary Club since 1994, Leonard served as president twice and most recently worked with fellow member Debbie McLean for 16 years on the annual Dam Duck Race, an event that raised thousands of dollars to help fund community projects. During the event, people sponsor yellow rubber ducks, which are numbered, and they are set loose at the Mill Pond dam behind Lisa G’s restaurant, race down the Chubb River, and are plucked out of the water by Rotary Club members using fish nets. Winners receive prizes.
This year’s race was extra special because it raised a lot of money after being canceled last year due to the pandemic, according to Semegram.
“How I remember her is going to be how happy she was at the conclusion of the race that we are going to be able to do so much good for our community,” he said.
“Service above self” is Rotary International’s main motto, and those are words Leonard lived by every day.
“She was always looking out for her fellow Rotarian to guide them to do something good, and she was always available to take on projects despite her very busy schedule, be it organizing to arrange speakers to present to the club or organizing a breakfast for the club,” Semegram said. “She was always willing to take one step more.”
“Thankful” is another word to describe Leonard.
There’s a point in every Rotary Club meeting where members can offer a dollar to the general fund, naming one thing they are thankful for. It’s called Happy Dollars.
On May 24, 2018, as she wore her eSight glasses for the first time in a meeting, Leonard dug out three dollars. First dollar: She was thankful for the story about her in the May 18 issue of the Lake Placid News titled, “The promise of sight: Community raises $10K to help Tina Leonard see again.” Second dollar: She told the group about donating more than $1,000 to a 9-year-old girl in Colorado to help her buy a set of eSight glasses. Third dollar: She was thankful for the faces she’d seen at Rotary that day.
“This has been incredible sitting here and seeing some of you people,” she said. “I didn’t know what these people looked like. I get chills. I’m just in tears. … You can’t believe how amazing this is.”