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Remembering Leonard Reese

Leonard Lee Reese Jr. may be gone, but his memory will always live on in the hearts of those who knew and loved him. The father of Del. Gary Reese (R-67th) of Oak Hill and husband of Ruby Livingston "Livia" Reese of Oakton, he died Aug. 11 at age 83.

But he had a long and colorful life and truly left his mark on the world around him. Besides working for seven U.S. presidents, he was named a pioneer of the space program because he helped open Cape Canaveral. "He saw a lot of the original missile shots from there," said his son.

And when it came to love, Leonard Reese didn't even let a world war stand in the way. He and Livia met, fell in love and became engaged — and then World War II came along.

"HE WAS in the Army Air Corps and was sent to Trinidad to protect the entrance to the Panama Canal, and the Gulf sea lanes, from the German subs," explained Gary Reese. "But he and my mom were married by proxy, with my great uncle Ray standing in for him."

The Reeses met around 1940 in Miami, Fla. Leonard attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, and Livia attended the University of Miami. "We met at a rollerskating party when I was a senior in high school," she recalled. "He was handsome and had a good personality — and he was a college boy."

"We fell in love immediately and became engaged shortly afterward," she said. "There was never anyone else; we had a great love affair."

After Leonard went overseas, Livia didn't see him for a year. But they had a formal wedding ceremony in Miami when he returned, en route to their first duty station together, Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

He later worked for the Veterans Administration and then became director of personnel at Patrick Air Force Base — now known as Cape Canaveral — around 1947-48. He then served in the civil service under seven presidents: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter.

He was in the Office of the President, serving in the Office of Emergency Preparedness, and received the Outstanding Performance award. "He was a political appointee in both parties because his level of expertise was something they needed," said his son.

And in the Ford administration, he was attached to the first task force on terrorism. Said Gary: "He'd regale me with stories of some interesting scenarios they were looking at."

Leonard and Livia also became parents to Gary and his sister Pamela, who died at age 12 of a hemorrhage. "He was a great dad," said Gary. "He was an open individual, had a warm smile and was very well-spoken." He retired in the late 1970s and enjoyed gardening — especially vegetables, turning a third of the acre he and Livia shared at their Oakton home into a garden.

"HE CARED a great deal and always wanted to know what was going on," said Gary. "After I joined the [Fairfax County] School Board, I took the budget to him so he could help me understand it. He said, 'Son, this is not a budget,' and he told me what it needed to become an accountable budget."

Leonard was also a past president of the Fairfax City Noon-Day Optimist Club from 1985-86 and received its excellence award. And Livia was no slouch, either. She was a speaker for women's rights, took painting lessons at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and, around 1980, she served as a planning commissioner in Arlington County.

They were married more than six decades and, said Livia, now 81, "We enjoyed being together and doing things together. But he also let me do what I wanted to do, and I gave him free rein to do the same."

When their children were young, they enjoyed taking trips out west to places like Colorado, California and Arizona. "We had a very interesting life," she said. "He had to travel so much in his career, and sometimes he took me with him on trips to Puerto Rico. But the happiest time was after he retired. Then we traveled in our motorhome. We went to Daytona Beach and parked right on the ocean."

However, in latter years Leonard suffered from dementia, so his wife gradually got accustomed to what life would be like without him. "He was ill for about six years, so my husband actually left me a long time ago, because of the Alzheimer's," she said. "I was just brokenhearted, but I had to get used to it. I wanted to keep him home as long as I could, and I did."

The family will receive friends at Everly Funeral Home, 10565 Main St. in Fairfax, on Wednesday, Sept. 22, from 7 p.m. until service time at 7:30 p.m. And memorial contributions may be made to the Alzheimer's Association National Capital Area Chapter, 11240 Waples Mill Road, Fairfax, VA 22030.

"IT'S A SAD thing, and that's why we're trying to help other people [with Alzheimer's] to keep them from going through this," said Livia.

Early in the last legislative session, Gary rushed home when his father had a stroke. "He went into physical therapy and had a good, three or four months, until he had another generalized stroke, about seven weeks ago," he said. "I got him into [Inova] Fair Oaks Hospital, they stabilized him in a week and then he went into Fairfax Nursing Center."

Until then, Livia — who'd suffered a stroke, herself, last year — was taking care of him, with help from Gary and his wife Carol. But when he went into the nursing home, said Gary, his mother "knew he wasn't coming home. He went into a coma and died peacefully, and that's all you can ask for. We almost lost him last January, so it was a long good-bye. You become reconciled — but it still hurts."

He said his mom is a strong woman — and she, too, boasts of her sturdy, Scottish roots — so he knows she'll eventually come to terms with the loss. And he and Carol, their daughter Shelley, plus son and daughter-in-law Alan and Brooke, will help her refocus her life.

One especially bright spot on the horizon will be the birth of her first great grandchild, expected by Alan and Brooke in October. "It's a girl," said Livia proudly. "One of my sorrows is that [Leonard] didn't live to see his great granddaughter." But, she added, "He knew about her."