Tommy Leonard, Falmouth Road Race Founder, Dies at 85

Photo: www.falmouthroadrace.com

FALMOUTH – The founder of the Falmouth Road Race has died.

Tommy Leonard was 85.

His passing was confirmed Thursday by Falmouth Road Race Board of Directors President Geoff Nickerson.

Leonard conceived the idea of the race in 1972 while he was working as a bartender at the old Brothers Four in Falmouth.

According to the Falmouth Road Race website, the 1972 Olympic Marathon was on a TV set in the bar’s lounge and Leonard began offering an analysis of the race.

He apparently became so engrossed in the performance of Frank Shorter, that he closed the bar to watch the first American since 1908 to win an Olympic Marathon.

From that moment on, his mission was to start a road race in Falmouth and get Shorter to become a participant.

“He gave us this tremendous gift of the road race. But I think the bigger gift he gave the community was his presence and the way he could make us all feel so special,” said Nickerson.

“All we can do is extend our thanks to him for what he has given to our town and our communities here on the Cape in a way we can try to help give back to others. That was really the essence of Tommy.”

With help from Falmouth High track coach John Carroll and support from then town recreation director Rich Sherman, Leonard pulled together the first race in 1973.

There were 93 participants.

The race now regularly attracts over 12,000 runners.

“Part of Tommy’s gift was making each individual feel like they were such a big part of his life,” said Nickerson.

According to falmouthroadrace.com, the field in the second year included Bill Rodgers, who won the race and would become one of the nation’s most famous runners of all time.

Both Rodgers and Shorter ran the 1975 Falmouth Road Race

“Tommy, the bartender,concocted a recipe that included one part sporting spectacle, one part festive family outing and a dash of sun, sea, and splash. Shake rattle and roll and presto- you have the Falmouth Road Race, a star-spangled celebration of red-hot competition and fun-in-the-sun holiday atmosphere in one of the most picturesque towns onCape Cod,” reads an online description of the race’s founding.

Leonard was most recently an honorary member of the Falmouth Road Race board of directors.

Nickerson said Leonard’s sense of community will be his lasting legacy.

“I was sitting at the bar with my feet up on chair having a cold one. And I’m looking out over Martha’s Vineyard Sound, and the Sound was like shimmering in the silvery moonlight with Roberta Flack on in the background softly singing, First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. I was with Captain Red Caviar – Cavanaugh, we called him Red Caviar – from the Cap’n Kidd, and it all just came into being. I’m a little bit of a romantic, and with this scenario I said, ‘I’d really like to do something for the Falmouth Girl’s Track Club,’ and I started putting all of it together. The conception was right there at the Brothers Four.”

Quote attributed to Tommy Leonard posted at www.falmouthroadrace.com.

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