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Stories about Leslie

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Ann Merryfield


I’m not an enthusiastic runner, but after 20 years of no running, I decided I would once again give it a try.  I bought some new running shoes, headed out on my first trial run, and before I got to the street corner, I heard someone calling from the front porch across the street, “HI - DO YOU WANT A RUNNING PARTNER?”  I had only met Leslie briefly before (she was new in the neighborhood), so I didn’t really know her.  Her friendly offer, however, was irresistible. Thus began our seven-plus-year partnership - three times a week, as soon as it was light enough to see, we were doing our three-mile circuit to the Mt. Baker boathouse and back together.


Regular exercise was the nominal reason for running, but really the health benefit was just a fortuitous side-effect.  The real reason I could force myself out of bed in the morning to grind my knees into the pavement was to hear Leslie’s stories.  At first, since I was not in great running shape, I totally depended on her stories to keep me moving – she talked, I panted.  As long as she was telling a good story (and she always was), I could stay distracted enough to ignore my fatigue. 


After several months, I was in good enough shape to share a few of my own stories with her.  We had a lot in common – we both lost a parent at an early age, we both spent our childhood in the hot and muggy Midwest (she in Wichita KS, me just over the border in Oklahoma), we both went to school in Chicago, we both liked to travel, we both were mothers of adolescent sons. As time went on, I really looked forward to our runs, just so I could hear her stories and hear about her past and current adventures.  I learned about the library in Wichita, waiting tables in Tucson, her first car, teaching at a Jewish school in Los Angeles, grad school at Northwestern, trips to Zambia, her dogs, her family, her first job in Seattle, her kids’ schools, the Lakeridge swim team, skiing at Whistler, her favorite crockpot recipes, New York City, her students, her Seward Park dream house, her challenges as a university administrator, and on and on.


Although we had much in common, we were also very different.  Unlike me, she was spontaneous.  I credit her with my first (and only) triathlon appearance – she called me a couple of days before the Danskin triathlon because her friends who had registered months earlier decided not to participate.  Did I want to pose with her as someone else?  Sure why not.  We got our bikes and swim goggles together and successfully finished the course. 


She was also a self-confessed real estate junkie (I am not). Our Sunday runs occasionally detoured into whatever open house we passed. So I credit her with my decision to purchase the house next door for my mom to live in.  When she sensed my interest in buying that house, she was all over it, giving me a whole list of real estate agents she knew (she seemed to know half the agents in Seattle), and talking up what a great idea it was to own this house.   She made at least a half dozen phone calls to me that crucial afternoon until she knew I was committed to making an offer.  When my mom finally moved into that house, it was Leslie who organized the neighborhood ice cream social to welcome her. 


She also seemed to know most of the people we saw along the lakefront as we ran.  I wish I had asked her how she could make and keep so many friends.  I also wish I knew how she had so much energy to thrive at a demanding job with a long commute, be active in her kids’ schools, organize neighborhood events, travel extensively, run with me and a lot of other people, and still have time to stay in touch with friends and family from afar.  Even as she became very ill and probably had very little energy, she was still asking me how she could help me when I went out of town. 


Last weekend, my son (less than a year older than her son) told me (only half-jokingly) that by punctuating my text messages to him, I was being “passive aggressive.” Huh?  My immediate reaction was that I needed to share this with Leslie – did she understand the subtleties in college-kid text message etiquette and communications, and if so could she please educate me?  At the least, we could have laughed about our mutual dismay at the decline in writing standards.  Sadly, I wasn’t able to have that conversation with her.  I miss her.



Kathy Walsh


Leslie was a good friend of mine in 5/6th grade. She was so kind to me as I just moved to Tucson and was a new student. She took me under her wings, helped me through a time when I didn't have any friends. She was so sweet and kind, funny and smart! May she rest in peace and God be with her and her whole family.




Jim Elliot


Friends throughout high school.  Took many of the same classes.  Spent time doing things in common groups of friends. Never dated, but went to senior prom together as great friends. On Saturday mornings, Leslie and Nancy Becker on their way to some job or volunteer work would bang on my bedroom window and run away just to be obnoxious and funny.  I feel bad that we lost touch over the years except on Facebook, but I was unaware of the illness she was dealing with and which took her life.  She will be missed.




Kay Starkey


Leslie was my nephew's first true love. His name was Tim Westfall from Tucson. I met her after he was killed in a motorcycle accident by a drunk driver. She quickly became a dear friend and comforted us all through his funeral. I loved her like a niece, which she may have been if my nephew, Tim had not been killed. I also coached her sister Sheri in volleyball at Saguaro high school and was so sad to hear of her murder. I loved them both. Thank you for having this place that I could send my thoughts and love. RIP LA. Love you always.





Shauniece Drayton


Leslie was an amazing human being. It’s so hard to explain who she was to those who may not have gotten the chance to meet her. She was such a strong female role model for me in the way she taught, led our Zambia trip and mentored me in various roles from being a student into my transition as staff.


I met Leslie as a sophomore in college in a required 300 level course called interdisciplinary inquiry. That is where I first started really learning about Malcolm X and having difficult conversations in a class about race and privilege.  Little did I know that she would be the director of the first year and pre- major program where I worked, or even lead the last study abroad trip to Zambia. Zambia was such a gift, something that I think about often and feel so blessed to have shared that with her. Leslie taught me many lessons and I only hope that I can keep her legacy alive in the life that I lead. Thank you Leslie for all of your work and for being so authentically you. We all miss you.



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