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Leonard's death met with tributes, fond remembrances


Family and friends of Phyllis Leonard describe the former Havre mayor as a supremely dedicated public servant, a loyal friend, and an outspoken advocate whose high goals were succeeded only by her accomplishments.

Leonard, who spent 13 years in city politics - including eight as Havre's mayor - died of cancer Thursday at her home. She was 67.

Actively involved in numerous organizations, she is remembered by those who knew her as friendly and hard-working.

"Wanda and I are deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend and Havre's unrelenting advocate," U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said in a statement this morning. "Phyllis put serving the people of Havre and the Hi-Line above everything. She made a lasting impact on north-central Montana and for that we are forever grateful."

Despite her many obligations to her job and other organizations, Leonard always left time for her friends, said Ardelle Hurlburt, who was city judge during Leonard's tenure as mayor.

"As a friend she was loyal and considerate, and she had a great sense of humor," Hurlburt said. "She was a lot of fun."

The two first met at the golf course where their husbands were both members, Hurlburt said.

"We took up golf together," she said. "We played all the time, at least three or four days a week. We used to joke that we only played when it was windy. She played golf like she did everything else - with a lot of energy."

Hurlburt said she knew Leonard would be a good mayor by the perseverance she demonstrated during her campaign.

"When she ran for mayor, she worked very hard," Hurlburt said. "She walked the entire town twice - that I know of - going door to door."

Leonard, who was Havre's first full-time mayor, was quick to make an impact when she entered office, Hurlburt said.

"She joined the League of Cities and Towns, which really kind of put Havre on the map," she said. "She made sure the City Council got information on issues beforehand and got them involved in training that previously wasn't available. Phyllis wasn't always visible at what she was doing, but she was always doing something to help the community."

Leonard was born in Ronan and moved to Havre in the early 1950s to attend Northern Montana College. While there, she met Charles Leonard, who would later become her husband. The couple had two children, Kathy Anderson of Havre and Gail Leonard of Bozeman.

After working as a paralegal for a local law firm and an accountant for the Black Butte Country Club, Leonard entered politics.

She ran for Havre City Council and won, serving for five years. While on the council, Leonard earned a reputation as being strong-willed, Hurlburt said.

"I didn't agree with everything she did, but she always thought about it very hard and was very strong in her convictions," she said. "I thought she did a very good job."

Former state legislator Toni Hagener praised Leonard for her friendship and hard work.

"She was a good friend, a dedicated public servant and a good mayor," she said. "I was desperately sorry to hear about her death. She certainly worked very hard for our community."

In addition to being neighbors and involved in Democratic politics, the two also worked together in a number of local organizations and charities, Hagener said.

Leonard's daughter, Kathy Anderson, said Leonard participated in dozens of organizations. She was a member of the Democratic Party, Van Orsdel United Methodist Church, and the Montana Municipal Insurance Association. She volunteered at the Salvation Army, Havre Beneath the Streets, the Havre Historical Society and at the Heritage Center. She also served on the HELP Committee and with the DARE program, and worked with Bear Paw Development Corp., Anderson said.

"She loved to golf and garden," she said. "She loved reading local history. She really knew Havre and the homesteads and ranches around it.

"I have so many memories of her. I think one of the best times we had was when we went out to the Bear Paws and rode horses together. That was a side of mom that probably no one knew about."

Of all of Leonard's accomplishments, Anderson said, she was most proud of her mom for one thing: being the first woman mayor of Havre.

Leonard's tenure as mayor spanned eight years - from January 1993 to January 2001. As mayor, she was relentlessly dedicated to her job, said Helen Hill, a former City Council member.

"She was the kind of person who was very organized," Hill said. "She was very informed about everything. She never made decisions about anything unless she had all the facts."

In addition to being impressed with Leonard's devotion to her office, Hill was also inspired by her dedication to other people.

"We became very good friends," she said. "As a person she was a first-responder. If anything happened to someone, she was the first person at the door with flowers or a card. She was very considerate. She was adamantly concerned about Havre. She always wanted to do the best for the city and its people."

She chose not to run for a third term.

"When she became mayor, there were certain things she wanted to accomplish for the city of Havre, and after eight years, I think she felt like she had done that," Hill said. "She was ready for someone else to take over."

Leonard's successor, Mayor Bob Rice, said Thursday that despite having different party affiliations, he greatly respected Leonard.

"She was always very congenial to me," he said. "I was saddened to hear what happened."

In 2001, Leonard was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Despite her illness, she continued to be active and involved, Hill said.

"There was a never a friend that she forgot about," she said. "She was a person that always thought of others."

Leonard's illness progressed rapidly, but she learned to accept the disease, Hill said.

"She told me, 'If it is my time to go, then that's what God wants,'" she said. "That's how she accepted things. She never thought 'Why did this happen to me?' She just said that it was her time to go."

The loss of Leonard will greatly affect anyone who knew her, Hill said.

"She was just a fun person to be with. Happy, fun, always optimistic," she said. "That lady had knowledge that was unbelievable. She was so intelligent."

A memorial service will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Van Orsdel United Methodist Church.


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