Percy Dennis Leonard, Jr. was born on July 21, 1942, in Greensboro, North Carolina as the fifth of seven children, and the first of two boys, to Percy Dennis Leonard, Sr. and Vera Leola Lynch Leonard.
PD’s childhood was one filled with love from a big family. His parents, a postal worker and a nurse, instilled kindness, a strong work ethic, integrity, and above all what it meant to be a family. Living in a 2-bedroom, 1 bathroom (plus an attic) did present its challenges but also provided lessons in compromising. Perhaps this is where PD learned to get along with and be valued by any group he joined.
PD always had a quiet demeanor with a quick wit and was fascinated with how things worked, characteristics he exercised to his advantage his whole life. He and his younger brother, Joe, shared a very elaborate electric train system that occupied a large part of the bedroom they shared. His summers included a variety of activities including building and operating a drink stand and playing the viola with his six siblings in a string orchestra. His interest in all things mechanical was later formalized with degrees in Mechanical Engineering at North Carolina State University.
During his sophomore year in college, PD was set up on a blind date with Rickie Ann McCollum, also from Greensboro, NC. They continued their courtship until November 22, 1962, when they married. PD earned his bachelor’s degree in 1964. Not long after, Rickie and PD’s first child, Melanie, was born.
With a budding family PD’s passion for mechanics and cars led him to shopping for a new ‘family car’. He special ordered a 1966 candy apple red, hi-performance fast back Ford Mustang. The salesman thought PD was over the top for ordering all of the available options, but it was well worth the years of enjoyment this car provided. The Mustang truly became a part of PD’s persona over the years, and it is just as beautiful today as the day he picked it up and parked it in his garage.
While wrapping up his master’s degree in aeronautical engineering in 1966, amidst the Vietnam War, PD joined the United States Air Force. After taking a strategic aptitude test the USAF offered PD a pilot training slot at Laughlin AFB, in Del Rio, Texas. PD, Rickie, Melanie, and the Mustang packed up and left North Carolina for a career in the Air Force which continued for 26 years.
The USAF took PD and Rickie to many different bases over those years though out the United States and abroad, including PD’s tour in Vietnam. During those years in the Air Force, PD and Rickie welcomed three more children, Lisa, Alison, and Christopher. The Air Force was the way of life for PD, Rickie and their four children and the values of that life remain a part of all of them today.
PD was a pilot at heart, flying over 3500 hours including 144 combat missions. One of his military achievements notably included the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation for this award read:
“Captain Percy D. Leonard distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as a Forward Air Controller near Phu Cat, Republic of Vietnam’s on 8 July 1971. On that date he flew in support of a friendly unit in contact with a large hostile force (in enemy territory). Disregarding intense antiaircraft fire, he made repeated rocket marking passes (all night long until sunrise when the unit could be rescued) to direct strike aircraft to the opposing position. Because of his actions many lives were saved. The professional competence, aerial skill, and devotion to duty displayed by Captain Leonard reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”
PD’s other military achievements included the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, and a Legion of Merit. All of these medals were earned by PD’s consistent displays of skill and devotion to his Country.
Over his career, PD flew the F-100, the O-2, and the T-38. He had considerable experience in the T-38 Talon as an instructor and test pilot. Notably during his time as a T-38 instructor and commander of the 97th Flying Training Squadron (he has said this was his favorite assignment), PD led his unit to a record setting performance. His Meritorious Service Medal noted the following:
“His squadron flew a sensation 42,000 sorties last year making it over four years of such flying without a major aircraft accident – a highly enviable Air Force Record”.
PD embodied excellence. His leadership and performance lead him to his selection as Base Commander at Vance AFB where he served in that role until moving on to teach as Commandant of the Commander’s Professional Development School at Maxwell AFB. As base commander, he often joked he “flew a desk”.
All these accomplishments were always in lock step with Rickie.
Upon PD’s retirement from the Air Force in 1991 as a “full bird” Colonel, he found a new path in which to apply his skills, with Fowler Energy in Austin, Texas. He was Senior Vice President and handled client energy matters for over 30 large natural gas clients located all over the United States. He assisted the company’s clients with contractual matters, involving energy costs, contract terms, and defining energy options for end users who had not had these options in the past. PD was still working with Fowler Energy at the time of his passing.
PD was kind, gentle, service oriented, strategic, methodical, driven, and persistent. He was a man who loved his family, God, and this country. He would do absolutely anything to help anyone. PD was incredibly proud of his family which grew to include 12 grandchildren (ages 4-23), two sons-in-law and one daughter-in-law. Spending time with Rickie, his family and being “Granddaddy” was what was most important to him. He loved driving, working on and showing his cars, fixing things, attending performances of his grandchildren, helping with project cars of the grandkids, college football, eating good BBQ and hot Krispy Kreme donuts, and most of all, enjoying Rickie’s company on their back deck. His cooking specialties included homemade sour dough waffles on the weekends and homemade chili on Christmas Eve. His crooked smile, quick wit, gentle soul, and his kindness will be sorely missed. He was truly one of the finest men one could ever meet.
PD is survived by his wife Rickie Ann Leonard of over 60 years along with his four children, Melanie Leonard (Beaumont), Lisa Shackelford and her husband Karl Shackelford (Austin), Alison Gardner and her husband Doug Gardner (Austin), and Christopher Leonard and his wife Sarah Leonard (Austin). PD has twelve grandchildren: Melanie’s children, Parker (23) and Payton (21) Weinbaum; Lisa’s children, Ethan (23), Grant (19), Mason (19), and Kate (18); Alison’s children, Addison (17), Emmalyn (16), and Charlotte (13); Christopher’s children Liam (12), Rowen (8), and Maeve (4). PD has is also survived by his sisters: Susan Walker (Burlington, North Carolina), Katherine Schlag (Atlanta, Georgia), Vera Schneider (Bethesda, Maryland), and brother Joe Leonard (Greensboro, North Carolina) with his wife Karen Leonard. PD is survived by many beloved nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his mother and father Vera and Percy Leonard, Sr, and his sisters Shirley Swaim and Martha Rierson.
PD will be buried with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. Family and friends are invited to attend the graveside service on June 27, 2023, from 2:30pm-3:00pm and the gathering directly afterwards from 3:00pm-5:00pm at the Fort Sam Houston Golf Club Ballroom.
PD led his life with curiosity, ambition, love, and kindness and he left this life with these values imprinted on all he touched along the way. We love you PD, Percy, Granddaddy, Dad, and Hun.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that charitable donations to be made in PD’s memory to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (give.michaeljfox.org). Unfortunately, flowers cannot be received at the national cemetery.
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