Every weekday at 6:45 a.m., Leopoldo Amado arrived at work to set up traffic cones. For the rest of the day, he had one priority: protecting the students and staff at the Cushman School in Miami.
While many of the school’s adults are addressed by formal titles, everyone knew Amado as Leo. For 16 years he worked as a crossing guard at the school, 592 NE 60th St. He died of colon cancer on Sunday at 55.
Born in Providence, R.I., in 1958, Amado worked in construction and at Miami’s Dupont Plaza Hotel before arriving at Cushman in 1998, according to head of school Arvi Balseiro. When Amado started at the school, he didn’t have any family. Balseiro said he had a rough upbringing and lost his parents at a young age. Once he joined the school’s staff, he found his fit.
“We were his family,” Balseiro said.
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Amado was a fixture at Cushman. In fact, images of the school on Google Street View show him standing near the crosswalk wearing his signature uniform — a white polo shirt, navy pants and a baseball cap with SECURITY emblazoned across the front.
He was known for wearing silly hats to work, joking with students and memorizing statistics about the Miami Heat and Dolphins. Still, Amado took his job seriously. Because of the layout of the school, every student walked through the cul-de-sac he guarded. Balseiro said some people took issue with his no-nonsense approach to safety, but the children’s well-being always came first.
He befriended every student and parent, and even learned the names of spouses and siblings who didn’t attend Cushman.
Parent Alice Bernard has a son who attended Cushman, and she remembers Amado giving her son a high-five every day for the seven years he was a student there.
“He knew every mother, he knew every child, he knew every sibling,” she said. Students selected for the school’s safety patrol were excited by the chance to work with Amado.
Parent Ivonne Leichtling remembers Amado’s attention to current events. He read the newspaper every morning and discussed world news, movies and sports with parents when they dropped off their children.
“He became our morning buddy,” Leichtling said. “He had genuine concern that he always showed the children. That’s something I’ve never experienced before from a total stranger.”
Once news of Amado’s death became public, people flooded Facebook and an online guest book with memories of the crossing guard, with many mourning the fact that he died suddenly. Some noted that he appeared to be ill in May, but he worked through the beginning of June.
“It's a terrible tragedy for you to end this way, but you're in a better place now,” former student Kurt Carlson shared on Facebook. “R.I.P. to the greatest crossing guard ever.”
A celebration of Amado’s life is planned for 8:45 a.m. Sept. 4 at the Cushman School. Instead of sending flowers, friends may make donations to Cushman for security enhancements in his memory.