Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Thank you all for coming today to celebrate Leigh’s life and to say goodbye. I’m looking around the room and I am so happy that she had so many fans and grateful that all of you took this time from your lives to sit and visit with me and talk about Leigh. There are friends and family here today from Michigan, Oklahoma, Arizona, Southern California, Sacramento, San Francisco, Redding, and other places and of course friends from our community here in Whitmore.

She was something else. I think everyone Leigh came in contact with was touched by her and hurts for having known her and lost her. I’m the lucky one here today. I got to be with her more than anyone else.

Leigh and I first met in 1989. We had a brief fling that ended after a few weeks. There is a story behind that but Leigh made me promise not to tell it again.

In September of 1994, Leigh came back into my life. I was living in San Francisco at the time and she was living in Denver. I was so excited to see her again that when the day came to go pick her up from the airport, I opened the garage door, jumped in my truck and backed out without closing the door. I folded it backwards against the truck, taking a little of the garage with me. I grabbed some rope and tied the door to the truck and sped off to get her. This time around, we dated for 5 days before getting engaged. We where married on June 24th of 1995 in Scottsdale Arizona. There are people here today that were there that day and I want you to know that between June 24th 1995 and September 21st 2005, Leigh and I where the happiest two people we ever met.

Leigh and I spent every moment together. We woke up together, planned our days together, worked together, played hooky together, shared our evenings with each other and slept together. We spent all our time together. People who we were close with thought we must be very odd to want to spend that much time together. When we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary 5 months ago, I told her thank you for the best 25 years of marriage a boy could ever ask for. Whenever we were out together and I’d meet someone new, I’d love to point over to her and say “that’s my wife”.

During the days that she was in a coma in the hospital and the days since her death, I’ve been telling stories about her to who ever will listen. Every time I tell a story, I bring her back for a few more minutes. Today I want to do that again. I want to bring her back to life a little bit for everyone here and for me, so we can tell her goodbye.

So with that said, I want to tell a few stories about Leigh. I want everyone to know how TALENTED, how FUNNY, how BRAVE and how STRONG my wife was.

Leigh was talented:

The DAY AFTER Leigh completed her instrument flight training, and I want to repeat that this was 1 DAY AFTER, she flew me into an airport in the heavily congested San Francisco Bay Area. The field, San Carlos, is just south of San Francisco International Airport. As we approached and the clouds started building on the horizon, I got a little nervous. Leigh proceeded on, working with air traffic control, lined us up for a GPS approach, dropped into the clouds and brought us into San Carlos like she’d been doing it all her life. She smiled at me and said: “Don’t worry Bobby, I’ll let you fly MY airplane when it’s pretty outside”. I was so proud of her. We went to a meeting that morning at our office in The City and left early that afternoon. The cloud cover persisted. Leigh did a pre-flight for the airplane and phoned up Flight Services and filed and Instrument Flight Rules Plan. She taxied the airplane over to the run-up area and the controller said he had her clearance for her when she was ready to copy. She affirmed she was ready and the controller said:

Cessna 6173Q you cleared to the Redding airport. On departure fly runway heading until passing the diamond shaped waterway then turn right heading 120 within 2
miles of the airport.

Radar vectors ALTAM, Victor 334, Sacramento then as filed.

Maintain VFR at or below 1100' until crossing the Oakland 165 degree radial then climb to 2000'.

Expect 5000' five minutes after departure.

Departure frequency will be 125.35.

Squawk 3562.

My eyes bugged out a bit and I turned to her with a look on my face that said it’s OK with me, I understand, lets go get a hotel room and wait for the weather to get better, don’t worry, I’ll take care of it, I’ll get us out of here… Then I realized she was looking at me with an all together different look on her face that said “Watch this.”:

San Carlos Tower, 6173Q is cleared RDD. Runway heading until passing the diamond shaped waterway, right turn to 120 within 2 of the airport.

vectors to ALTAM, Victor 334, Sac as filed.

Maintain VFR at or below 1100' until Oakland 165 climb to 2000'.

Expect 5000' five after.


Squaking 3562 on the transponder.

She cocked her head and smiled at me, got her take off clearance and shot up into the clouds and took me home. I was so turned on by her that day.

Leigh was funny:

Leigh had a wicked sense of humor. Usually I was the one poking at her, prodding her making her laugh. I loved to do that. But every now and then Leigh would show me the little black funny part of her heart. We were over at my parent’s house having dinner and I was giving Leigh my usual razzing about something. My Mom, who always took her side, was exasperated with me and asked Leigh why she stayed with me. Without missing a beat, Leigh said: “Because my half is not big enough yet”. I laughed about that, but I also wondered about it too. I had to be careful and treat Leigh right.

Leigh was brave:

Sailing in St. Lucia, with Leigh with our good friends Les and Rachel, I made a string of poor decisions the resulted in getting us all caught in a full blown gale off shore about 100 miles north of Grenada in the southern Caribbean island chain making a passage between St. Lucia and St Vincent. We did not make it to our destination. While it is an exciting, harrowing and life-threatening story, it’s a story for another day. After we found shelter, Leigh and I talked about how the boat was not ours, this was only a vacation and there was no sense in risking our lives again to try and sail it back through that to get the yacht back. Leigh’s Father and his wife had already caught a flight back and where sitting at a resort in St. Lucia sipping margaritas. It would have been an easy enough thing to do to go and join them. We waited three days, the storm still raged, but I started to feel like a real dick. What kind of sailor was I to abandon my ship? I broke down and asked Leigh what she would think about heading back out to sea. I expected her to tell me to shove it up my arse. Instead, she responded by saying that this boat was equipped with safety harness and jack lines to strap us to the deck in case it flipped over in the big seas. I not sure if I could have loved that girl more at that moment. She was so brave. Many people don’t know this about Leigh but she is afraid of water. So you can imagine the courage she had, to be willing to go back into that boiling sea knowing first hand what it would be like. We sailed that boat back, just the two of us, strapped tight to the deck.

Leigh was strong:

Leigh and I packed into the backcountry for 5 days in Yosemite to go climb Half Dome and hike into the upper valley to try to reach the high mountain lake, Harriett. We had a destination picked out that had bear cables strung up between trees so we could raise our food up in the air to prevent getting eaten in our tent. After hiking in the first day, climbing steep trails, scrambling up granite boulders with a heavy pack on my back in 90 degree weather, I was done. We had not made it to our first nights destination yet, but the heat, the weight and all the climbing had got to me. My blood sugar was wrong, I was losing too much water, I felt dizzy and like I was going to puke and I just could not take another step. Leigh was blazing the trail in front of me. I dropped my pack on the ground and said I will not go another step. I can’t do it. Leigh walked back to me and said “Leave you pack here, follow me to the site and once we get there I’ll come back and hike your pack in”. She was serious. I put my pack back on, stopped my whining and went back to following her. Once we got to the bear cables she told me what a good boy I was.

So many people have expressed their sadness, shock and grief to me. They have also expressed their love for Leigh and their offers of help and encouragement. I have felt surrounded by the love of friends and family to the point where the grief I feel for losing Leigh has been met by an equal amount of love and support.

I have received so many letters, emails, cards and phone calls. I want to share some of those with you. I think the expressions of love that have been made in Leigh’s honor speak to her immense character and her capacity to bring happiness to others.

I want to read the following letter from one of her college friends from Oklahoma University.

For Leigh,

Among all of the images and memories that stand out from our college years, probably the most prominent is a box of half-eaten chocolates. I remember sitting on a strange couch, in a strange apartment, with my partners in crime—Leigh and Tiffini—with a beautifully wrapped box of chocolates sitting on the coffee table in front of us. We proceeded to take a single bite out of every piece of chocolate in that box, then carefully packaged it back up. Innocent enough stuff, that’s for sure—yet it would send us into a fit of giggles later when we thought about the person’s reaction that discovered our prank. Leigh was that kind of friend--the one who would always join you for a beer at 2am when you were feeling restless or bored; who was always up for a road trip, no matter how uninspired, or unknown, the destination; who was always willing to forgo a night of studying during finals to watch Silence of the Lambs for the 45th time. It wasn’t that she was irresponsible; but that she would never, ever wonder “what if…”

And with her death, Leigh has emboldened each of us who knew her and loved her. Because she lived a life with no regrets—a truly and fully lived life, she challenges each of us to do the same. To realize forgotten dreams, to get back in touch with long ago friends, to forgive old hurts and wrongs. We’ve begun to think, once again, about who we should be and how we should be living our lives. To witness Leigh’s too short--but big, vivid--life inspires us to do what Leigh would do, what she would want each of us to do. Our lives were enriched and deepened by having Leigh in them, now they will be all the more memorable for her continued impact on them.

With much love & gratitude,

Heather Haines

I share Heathers sentiment about Leigh. Two days before she had her heart attack and blinked out of our lives, Leigh and I snuck over to my father’s house. We rode our ATV over to the top of his hill, turned off the engine and lights and rolled down silently to his house. We relieved him of quite a bit of firewood, and then raced away. My father, who loved Leigh and still cannot believe that his angel would ever do him wrong, adamantly refuses to believe this. I told him: “Dad, all I had to do was say ‘want to go steal my father’s firewood and heat up the hot tub with it?’” Leigh’s response to almost every question was ‘Yes’. She was never the instigator, but always an eager and giddy co-conspirator. We’d steal his beer, his food, whatever was not chained down. One time after we got tired of listening to him fret over how pretty his brand new Ford F250 Diesel truck was, we waited until he had to go to town with my mother, walked over to his house and took it. It had been raining recently so we drove it up to some off road trails up near Kilarc and did donuts in the mud. I want to tell you Dad, that Leigh can get some wicked air when she’s behind the wheel. After covering the truck top to bottom mud, we put it right back where we got it, drank a six pack of beer and left the cans on the dash board and in the seat and then laughed our asses off on the walk home.

The following letter is from our very good friend Amy Copolla. Amy regretfully could not be here today. She lives in London and has 3-year-old twins to care for, but she sent me this:

Dear Rob,

I'm sorry that I haven't phoned, but I'm not sure that I'll be able to say the right things to you in real time.

Not a day goes by when I don't think of you, of Leigh, and of what you might be going through. I really believed the whole time that she would recover.

Never did I imagine that this chapter of your life would close as it has.

I remember way back in 1994 when your cousin and Leigh came for a visit and how the only thing that I knew about Leigh is that she tried to kick out the windows of a taxi when you two where in Mexico. But the change in you from the moment that she stepped into your life again was so apparent. And not only did it show in your emotional behavior, but in your actions, as well. How many times had you backed out of our garage with*out* taking the garage doorframe with you?

I have talked with David about this, and he said that when you told him that you were going to marry her, he said, "yeah, right." But I told him that I knew that you would, that I could tell that you felt differently about Leigh.

And so you did. Thinking about your wedding and how I wasn't able to get back from the UK made me realize that I hadn't spent all that much time with Leigh... certainly not as much time as I would have wanted, yet I felt, and feel, really close to her. She was such a joy to be around. I don't know how she felt about me, but I always thought that when we move back to San Francisco, we would have spent more time together and that we could have become best friends. I’m so sad for this loss.
In the time that we did spend together, it was quite clear to me what a wonderful rapport you both had. It was symbiotic; synergetic; yin yang with a sense of humor. You may say that she never asked you for anything, but I think that you gave her everything she needed without her having to ask. You have more energy than any one I know. You gave her hope, security, love, and excitement. No one deserved her, Rob... except you. She is also lucky to have found you.

I pray that the love of your friends and family will help see you through each day. But most of all, I hope that you can draw strength from the memories of your happy and blessed life together. You seem to have perfect sense of what she would and would not want now, I'm sure that top on that list is for you to know that you are loved by your friends and family and we are here to support you. When the grieving has subsided, she'd want you to concentrate on being happy; to continue the good work, where she left off.

I would like to share the poem below with you, because it is how I would feel if I were in your place. It is easy to sympathize, but empathy is more difficult to experience in its true sense. No one knows exactly what you feel. But if I could know, please know that I would go there with you, so that you weren't alone in the days of your most intense grief.
Before I share it, I must give my most sincere apologies to its author, WH Auden, for my shameless editing. I think that it is a beautiful poem, but it lets me down. It's written by a man, for a man and it's bereft of hope. The curse of a (former) technical writer led me to rewrite it the way that I wanted it to be, before sharing it with you.

I love you and I am here for you as long as I am here.

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let airplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message, She Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

She was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever; I was not wrong.

Amy Copolla.

Leigh loved life. The saddest thing of all for me is that fact. If she was here right now, she would be so very sad that she’d seen her last sunset, kissed her dogs for the last time, drank her last glass of wine, fed her goats for the last time… She would want to live, and that life has been taken from her by a rare heart problem would make her so very sad. I’ve thought about that almost every day since September 21st. I’ve thought that if I ever let one of life’s little problems get to me like a broken water main, a muddy dog in the bed, a garden that won’t grow, the loss of a valuable employee, the loss of my business… any of these trivial little problems, then shame on me. Leigh would trade any annoyance to be here right now trying figure out how to right it. She loved life. So as a lasting tribute to her, I will remember that until the day I go to join her… never let life’s little problems upset me. I think that would be letting her down.
And so, now with great difficulty, it is time for me to say goodbye to Leigh. I am a better man for having known her and loved her. Her gifts to me are the ability to love completely and to carry on a calm, happy measured, full life. She left behind the foundation that we built together for me to live on. When we were married, she promised to spend the rest of her life with me. She kept her promise.
So, each of us have to say goodbye today in our on way.

Angel Flight N624LG, runway 34, straight-out departure approved, cleared for takeoff. Have a nice flight baby girl.

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