Leonard Michael LeMaster of Hendersonville died on September 26th at Elizabeth House. Leonard was a kind and gentle family man with a passion for music, aviation, golf and all living things — an avid bird watcher throughout his life. He was born in Port Huron, MI on August 17, 1935; the second child of Dennis F. LeMaster and Mary Leskanic LeMaster. In 1942, the family moved to Royal Oak, MI where Leonard entered parochial school at the Shrine of the Little Flower. By the high school years, Leonard and his classmates were mortified by the name of their school. To project a more masculine image, Leonard and five friends began calling themselves “the Syndi-cats”. As Leonard put it, “We thought we were the ultimate in cool…slicked back pompadours, pegged pants and white buck shoes.”
During high school years, he developed a love of golf. He and the Syndi-cats caddied for members of the Oakland Hills Golf and Country Club. He never caddied for the pros, but he was present at many PGA events. The most exciting for him was the U.S. Open of 1951, won by his idol, Ben Hogan. He wanted his own swing to emulate Hogan’s. Leonard did develop a swing that he executed with precision for 55 years. He enjoyed playing in Member Guests with his son, Michael. They won two tournaments.
Leonard enrolled at Wayne State University in Electrical Engineering , working as a bank teller to pay tuition, but his fascination with aviation won out in 1955 when a team of Air Force recruiters came to Detroit. After a week of testing, he was selected to begin pre-flight training in Lacklund, TX. He progressed through primary, basic, and advanced flight training at Graham, Bryan and Perrin Air Force Bases. After graduation in 1957, he was assigned to Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to become part of the Photo Reconnaissance Team.
Later, Leonard won the Air Force Commendation Medal for leadership in developing the tactical components of low level flying in a single seat fighter; the RF-101, nicknamed the Voodoo. Carrying only cameras and no guns, the Photo Recce motto became “Alone, Unarmed and Unafraid”. Leonard’s comment about the motto was, “Only two of those adjectives were correct”.
From 1959 to early 1962, Leonard was stationed at Couvron AFB in Laon, France. Here he earned the nickname “The Phantom” for elusive tactics used in flying under radar and escaping detection in air space around Berlin. In 1962, he returned to Shaw AFB in the middle of the Cold War tensions. Photo Recce played a significant role in the October standoff between President John F. Kennedy and Khrushchev, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Krushchev denied that Russia was placing missiles in Cuba aimed at the U.S. mainland. Leonard was one of the first to fly low level into Cuba and photograph the missile silos, giving President Kennedy the proof he needed to change the narrative with Russia. Following that mission, President Kennedy awarded Leonard the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Force Commendation Medal aboard an aircraft carrier. Leonard left the Air Force for commercial flying in 1964. He flew for Mohawk Airlines out of Buffalo, NY for eight years before Mohawk merged with Allegheny Airlines to become US Air, his employer until retirement in 1992. Commercial flying was more lucrative, but he never enjoyed it as
fully as flying the Voodoo.
Leonard is survived by his wife of 29 years, Margaret Austin LeMaster, his first wife, Anita Nastasi Szabo, and four children; Michael Dennis LeMaster of Ft. Walton Beach, FL, Karen Ann LeMaster of Batavia, NY, Susan Denise Bieber (Bob) of Hamburg, NY, and Damian Michael Oliver LeMaster (Carson) of Rabat, Morocco. An infant daughter, Maria Lynn LeMaster, predeceased him. His step-sons are William David Ratcliffe (Ana) of Vienna, Va and Stephen Keith Ratcliffe (Ruthie) of Glen Burnie, MD. His sister, Mariann Flore, lives in Royal Oak, MI. Leonard was predeceased by his wife, Judith Ann Lawton of Markham, Ontario, whom he married in 1972. Damian LeMaster was their son, born in 1978. Judy died in 1989. A brother, David LeMaster, sister, Elaine Sacco, and daughter-in-law Yvonne LeMaster predeceased him. Leonard was blessed with 13 grandchildren; Angi, Danny, Leah, Jimmy, Emily, Nicholas, Robert and Jamie; and the step-grandchildren who adopted Leonard as their own; Michael, Stephen, Margaret, Meaghan and Anna. He allowed them to call him whatever name they chose and answered to “Granddad, D-Daddy, Grand-Leonard, and Big Daddy. His great-grandchildren are Anthony, Joey, Vincent and Raven. He is survived by ten nieces and nephews; Dennis,Toni, Leonard, Dean, Christopher, Jeff, David, Stephen, Tracy and Doug. They helped him liven up the family reunions.
In Hendersonville, Leonard leaves his best friend, Gordon Ludwig, whom he met as a volunteer at The Medical Loan Closet. We promised Leonard we’d forego the big funeral. He’d had enough of those while serving as an altar boy at Shrine of the Little Flower. A small family service is planned for Thursday, October 29th at 2:00p.m. in the Memorial Garden at St. James Episcopal Church. His request is that we throw a big party for all our family and friends to celebrate his life. That part is on hold until summer 2021.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that memorial gifts be sent to St. James Episcopal Church, 766 N. Main St., Hendersonville, NC 28792 or Four Seasons Hospice, 571 S. Allen Rd., Hendersonville, NC 28731.