Community loses a true jewel

It’s been said that life is a journey. We twist and wind through life’s obstacles and victories, and encounter a cast of characters along the way that either impact the very nature of who we are, or simply disappear into the background in relative anonymity.

If we’re truly fortunate, we run into a handful of people who sincerely touch our hearts, souls and minds. These are the individuals who make us light up inside when we see them, and the ones we make sure to spend a little extra time with whenever given the chance.

Leo Brady was one of those people in my life. He made me laugh, made me think about some things in a different light and would other times just make me shake my head when I knew there was a better chance of balancing an elephant on the tip of my nose than convincing Leo to change his stance. He was my dear friend and someone I admired a great deal, and he passed away last week.

To many, Leo was the name and inspiration behind the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Leo Brady Exercise Like the Eskimos event to start off the new year. And that’s not a bad way to know him. Leo took great pleasure in the event, and was very proud to see how much it grew in popularity each year — not because of some ego itch that got scratched by seeing people flock to “his” event, but more so because he found so much joy in seeing people get together and have a great time.

A few years ago, I emceed the annual Hometown Pet Show at the Bethany Beach Bandstand, an event that takes place right before the Eskimo swim begins. When the pet show was over, I started making my way to the beach to get a good spot to watch the festivities, and I ran into Leo. He was very excited to introduce me to his son, and the three of us stood there for several minutes talking and laughing. I was immediately impressed by his son, and mentally chalked up yet another reason to admire Leo — he had a son who he was immensely proud of, and his son seemed to have the same admiration for his father.

That same son called me while I was on vacation last week to tell me about Leo’s passing. There wasn’t the same frivolity in the conversation as there was that first meeting, but that love and respect for his father still came through his voice just the same. My heart went out to him, and my eyes burned a little when I hung up the phone and paced for a few minutes.

Then I got mad at myself.

That’s not what Leo was about at all — people feeling sorry for him. He was about embracing life, enjoying time and conversation with people and espousing on the brilliance and excellence of Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey. He did not see obstacles — instead, he saw opportunities to succeed.

I decided that I was going to make a conscious effort to treat Leo’s passing the Irish way. Instead of mourning the loss, I would celebrate the life. Instead of feeling sorry for myself because I wouldn’t be seeing Leo working the Taste of Coastal Delaware event in a few weeks or manning a hole at the Chamber’s annual golf tournament, I would rejoice in the fact that there was always a reception line of sorts for Leo when he was at a public event, and take solace in the fact that he touched so many lives in such a profound manner. We are all better just for having known Leo Brady, and that is quite the legacy to leave on the world.

When I heard the news about Leo, my mind started racing. I chuckled at those one-line letters-to-the-editor he would send in if somebody irritated him with a letter the week before, and laughed out loud when thinking about how he would give me a hard time if he didn’t agree with something in my column. He wouldn’t yell at me or call me names, but would instead make subtle jokes about my sobriety when I wrote such piece, or ask me if I had been coerced by somebody to write something so preposterous.

He believed in service to country and community, picking one’s self up if times got tough and lending a helping hand to somebody who ran into some bad luck. I wrote a column last year about how our delivery guy, Jeff, had gotten ill, and how much he loved the Pittsburgh Steelers. A short time later, we received a package from Leo, who was at the time living in Pennsylvania, and it contained a Steelers Terrible Towel, autographed by one of the players. He asked that we passed it along to Jeff.

Ladies and gentleman, that was Leo Brady.

There will be a time this weekend when I will find myself alone and Leo will take over my mind. I’m sure I’ll feel sad about losing my friend, but I’ll also try to feel happy for Leo in that he gets to embark on a new part of his journey.

And then I’ll lift a glass of Bushmill’s and smile. Sláinte, Leo.