To the inimitable Bob Leonard … we salute you!
By Vance Nevada
The unfortunate side effect of success and having the opportunity to work alongside your heroes is one the many don’t think about. On your way to the goal, you envision the scenario where you will be on a first name basis with those who have had the greatest influence on your life and career and it’s a surreal experience when that day arrives. But the downside comes when we have to say goodbye. For then, we’re not just among the masses that experience a moment of sadness when they recall a familiar catchphrase or share what they believe is an iconic moment in pop culture. No, the flipside of getting to see past veneer of their public image is that we get to know our heroes so intimately, when we lose them we grieve as deeply as we would for a close member of our own family. Nowhere is that more true than in the fraternity of professional wrestling.
That was the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I awoke to the news that the world has lost our friend Bob Leonard. Bob’s involvement with the sport of professional wrestling began in the 1950’s when Stu Hart’s circuit was in its earliest days. Over the years, Bob was at ringside to shoot some of the biggest names in the sport as they were learning the ropes on one of the roughest schedules in North America. Many of the most memorable images that are entrenched in our memory from the Stampede territory can be attributed to Bob. Many fans will be too young to remember Bob’s literary talents as well, adding his words to his photos in some of the only press that Canadian wrestling ever saw in the American-based wrestling magazines. Over the years, Bob Leonard served in almost every capacity but donning a pair of trunks himself. As a ring announcer, promoter, and advisor, Bob’s contributions to the sport have long been under-rated.
But beyond simply his CV, what resonates with those who had the fortune to work with him is that his passion for the sport and his sincere care for all who stepped through the ropes was everlasting. Though he had broken bread with some of the biggest names in the game, that did not lend itself to the inflated egos that seem to accompany many who achieve success. Instead, those stories were just some among many colorful anecdotes that he could draw upon when imparting his wisdom to rising stars who took enough pride in their craft to seek out feedback from someone who knew their stuff.
Even when battling his own medical challenges, it was a common occurrence for Bob to hit the road, most often with his close friend and travelling mate John Cozman, with his sport coat and collared shirt in tow, to lend his expertise to the local cards from Manitoba to Alberta. Even when he wasn’t called to action, you could tell that there was just something about the electric atmosphere of the wrestling arena that still captured his imagination … even though he often mourned at the progressive loss of our art form.
Bob’s involvement as an executive director in the Cauliflower Alley Club is a testament to that unwavering devotion to the sport of professional wrestling and the men and women who continue to sacrifice with little more than their own goals as a motivator. In his role and with his circle of close friends and colleagues, Bob could well insulate himself among the legends on hand at each year’s reunion and enjoy catching up with dear friends. Instead, for the past several years, Bob’s role as the coordinator for the reunion’s seminar series focused on facilitating a knowledge transfer from the previous generation to the upcoming one attests to his fondness for the sport’s emerging stars.
Bob Leonard holds a special place in the hearts of young wrestlers, five decades his junior, who have benefited from his coordinated seminars, but also for the time that he has spent and interest that he has taken directly in their careers. Among the young wrestlers on the ascent of their careers that have tapped into to Bob’s wisdom include two Cauliflower Alley Club Future Legend award recipients — former All Star Wrestling Trans-Canada champion Kyle Sebastian and CNWA National champion Bobby Sharp.
“I am overwhelmed with grief to hear that my friend Bob Leonard has passed,” says Bobby Sharp. “His contributions to Canadian wrestling as a photographer, writer and promoter are well known in the industry but aside from all of this, Bob was my friend. The support and care that he gave to me, and to many others, has had such an influence on me professionally as well as personally. It was Bob that saw my potential and put my name forward for the Future Legend award in 2013 and I was humbled to know that he felt that strongly to endorse me. I will miss your wisdom and encouragement.”
Fans will readily recall (and imitate) the echo of Bob’s steady baritone voice from centre ring for years to come. For those of us that had the opportunity to travel the roads with Bob and tip a few back after a hard night at the matches, what we will remember most is the warmth of his voice, the kindness of his words, the youthful sparkle in his eye and the unwavering genuineness of his interactions with all that he encountered. He was a true gentleman and one that truly beamed to see those around him succeed. Humbly, he would grin quietly in the background, never taking credit for just how instrumental he may have been in those successes … but we knew, Bob. Thank you.
For myself, I still remember the first words that Bob Leonard said to me in the locker room backstage at the Regina Exhibition Auditorium on February 25, 1997 and will never forget all that he has done for me personally and professionally ever since. And I know, from the steady outpouring of emotion from many since news of his passing that I’m not alone in my great sadness at this loss. Bob Leonard gave more than fifty years of his life to the sport of professional wrestling and he’ll never see his name enshrined in the Hall of Fame, though he has secured a lasting home in many of our hearts.
Bob is survived by his wife Winnie, children Christi and Curtis and granddaughter Jade. But there are many among us who carry this loss as though we have just lost our own brother and best friend.
Pictured here with The Stomper Archie Goldie and Abdullah The Butcher