Jordan Leonard, vice mayor of Bay Harbor Islands, remembers a funny story about his father Eugene “Tank” Leonard and it cuts right to the heart of what made “Tank” Tank.
Leonard, 66, a longtime CPA in North Miami, died July 15 of skin cancer, a disease he faced with the same pluck that served him well in life.
Years ago Tank, nicknamed because he was built like one as an All-County offensive lineman at Miami Beach Senior High and with the Fighting Midshipman in the Navy, was stuck driving a borrowed old 1977 Pontiac that belonged to a family member. He had to go to a conference at the Omni, about 10 miles from his home off 73rd Street in Miami Beach.
Tank turns the ignition and quickly realizes something’s wrong with the old jalopy — it started, all right, but the car would only move in reverse. He could not drive forward, his son chuckles at the memory.
Tank, being a resourceful guy, had his own novel approach to the problem. “You think Dad would call a tow truck? No way. He’d drive home backward. He takes Venetian to Dade Boulevard to Prairie and crosses over 41st Street,” his son recalls. Here, Tank is faced with a choice: take Pinetree, Alton or Indian Creek home. Pinetree would be the shortest route, so he opts for that, still driving in reverse, until a cop catches him.
“My dad says, ‘Is it really a law you can’t drive backward?’ ”
The police call for a tow truck and good-naturedly ask where he had been driving from, assuming it was just a block or two. Tank reluctantly reveals he had made it all the way from the Omni. “They didn’t believe him,” chuckles Leonard, 35. “They told him, ‘Mr. Leonard, we’ll have the best story at roll call tomorrow.’ ”
The misadventure, and Tank’s can-do spirit, describes the man well.
Born Eugene Leonard at Jackson Hospital on Aug. 26, 1945, Tank grew up in Miami Beach, moving often – some 13 apartments over 12 years. The family was poor, his son said. Tank’s mother was a nightclub singer, but money was scarce and a young Leonard had to learn to be self sufficient.
“My grandmother was a sweet woman, but she was a singer at night, so my dad learned to cook and became a self-taught gourmet. His specialty was French food. Most people would look at something like that and not make anything of it, but that’s the way he was. He took a negative and turned it into a positive.”
Tank was a football star at Beach High, class of 1963. He would take his skills on the field with him into the Navy.
“As his high school sportswriter for the old Miami Beach Sun, Tank gave me credit for getting him to the Naval Academy. Never would admit to me that his skill got him there. We all know better,” high school friend Arthur Mickelson wrote in remembrance on Leonard’s Miami Herald online guest book page.
After attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and graduating from the University of Miami, with honors, Tank was hired at Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co. as a certified public accountant. Tank would soon form his own firm, Eugene H. Leonard, C.P.A., P.A., in North Miami and would head the company for 30 years until his passing.
“He was a character and a super bright character,” his son said. “He just lived life. Over 90 percent of people go to work and hate what they do. My dad was one of the few who had the privilege of enjoying what he did. He thought, ‘How lucky I am.’ He appreciated the opportunity he had but the reality is the opportunities he had, he seized them — he earned it. That’s why he did well. He lived life on his own terms.”
Part of that quintessentially South Florida lifestyle included sailing from his home for a day on the bay, cheering for the Hurricanes as a 30-year season ticket holder and being an avid tennis player.
But his son fondly remembers the lessons his father left the family — which includes two young grandchildren, Joshua, 2, and Bella, 3 months.
“His word was stronger than oak. If he told you this is what we’re going to do, regardless if it wasn’t going to turn out in his favor, he made good on it. In this world that’s almost unheard of to do business with someone on a handshake. But that was his reputation for over 30 years and that is a true legacy,” Leonard said.