R.I.P. TOMMY LEONARD (1933 – 2019)

Tommy Leonard

The great Tommy Leonard passed quietly from our midst yesterday at JML Care Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts at age 85. The beloved founder of the Falmouth Road Race and long-time bartender at Boston’s legendary Eliot Lounge, Tommy was the patron saint of running to thousands of people around the globe.

Tommy’s dear friend Russ Pelletier sent the following note last night. 

“Just want to let you know that he never lost his sense of humor.  I was with him yesterday afternoon.  It was obvious that he was at the end of the line.

Around the bed were three women on the JML staff and myself.  He was having difficulty breathing and couldn’t speak.  But we knew he could hear us.

So I told him, “Tommy, no matter what the situation, you always have young ladies taking care of you”.

I couldn’t hear his reply, but the nurse closest to him did.  I asked, “What did he say?”.  She looked at me and said, “I have the best seat in the house”.

He went out on his own terms.”


Thanks to Russ for bringing one last Tommy-made smile to our faces. 

Those who knew him well loved him dearly, not just for a shared love of running, but for his selflessness and generosity of spirit.  Even those who had never met him felt like they knew him from the stories they’d heard.  Such was the effect Tommy had on people, a best friend you might not have ever met.

TL’s contributions were incalculable, and not just to the running community. He and fellow Back Bay barkeep at the Bull & Finch Pub (the Cheers bar on TV) Eddie Doyle raised funds for causes far and wide through the years from their posts behind the hardwood.  And though he had grown up in an orphanage and foster homes in western Massachusetts, Tommy created a worldwide family with his Irish glint, zest for life, and an embracing you-centered concern.  Like a human endearment machine, Tommy worked perfectly all the way to the end.

True, he was more of a dreamer than a hands-on producer. But TL was a wizard at bringing the right people together – like John Carroll and Rich Sherman in Falmouth, and Eddie Doyle in Boston – while creating an atmosphere where good times were to be had by all.   Today, we mourn his passing from a world where such character and traits seem increasingly anachronistic.

It’s with full hearts we send TL off on his next great adventure. Off beyond “the powder-puff clouds and shimmering Vineyard Sound” to make God laugh, angels weep, and more souls that can fit on the head of a pin happy.

Bless you, Tommy Leonard, your light and spirit will continue to shine through to show us the way.


“With Tommy Leonard tending taps, 

The guru in his lair, 

Every runner’s true best friend, 

With a heart big enough to share.”

Tommy Leonard at his station at the Eliot Lounge


17 thoughts on “R.I.P. TOMMY LEONARD (1933 – 2019)

  1. I ran extensively, and mostly non-competitively, when residing in Boston from May ’78 through Aug ’82, including some commuting on foot to & from the heart of the city when I resided in Allston, Cleveland Circle, and Somerville. (The marathon lightning bolt didn’t strike me until ’83, after I had moved to Rhode Island. Glad it did, too.) As a huge fan of distance running during my Boston days, at a popular time for the sport, I loved all that the city had to offer a runner and enthusiast (except too much snow and ice sometimes), especially in April each year. I met more than my share of dedicated athletes who lived and breathed running (never a negative to me), and who, despite my lack of a shiny running pedigree, treated me like one of the club. Happy memories. Tommy in the Elliot Lounge was one such kind soul. He wouldn’t have remembered me, but I remember him, with great fondness. Thanks, Tommy, for your human approach to bartending and treating others, and thanks, Toni, for a great tribute.


  3. Very nice tribute, Toni. As you know, Tommy was so full of life. He was always joyous to see you, and he made your day that much better for being around him. And as you also know, he was never at a loss for a story. Whenever I needed a good (and at times tall) tale for an article I was writing about Falmouth, Boston, running, etc., I’d turn to him and he never would disappoint. I remember when I first stared writing my Falmouth Road Race book, he was of course one of the first people I talked to for its history. I’d interviewed him so many times over the years that he didn’t think he could recall anything else other than the usual short quotes he’d been giving to newspapers for years. I explained that we could delve deeper into those stories of the race’s history because I have more pages to use in a book format. He said he’d try, “but my brain’s all mush.” Well, several hours (and beers) later, he dug up recollections he hadn’t recollected in years! It was beautiful. He even seemed to surprise himself! He was awash in the new memories.

    He also knew my parents as well. After my father died and my family and I went to the Quarterdeck Restaurant in Falmouth (where Tommy worked) for lunch after Dad’s military service at the Veterans Cemetery in Bourne, Tommy came over to our tables and talked to us for a while and expressed his condolences. I told him where my father was buried and Tommy said he’d be there at some point and will keep him company. I’m going to hold him to that. Tommy was truly a one-of-a-kind. I will certainly miss that great big smile of his every time I saw him.

    Paul Clerici

  4. Tommy was one of those rare individuals that never forgot people and he didn’t forget names. Me, I could be introduced to someone and forget their name 2 seconds later. I met him in 2004 through a close personal friend of his for brief moment and I mean brief. Flash forward to 2005 and I went into the Quarter Deck Restaurant in Falmouth, where he was tending bar part time. I was trying to get some lunch the day before before the Falmouth Race and saw him trying to pick up a heavy item and offered my assistance to help and he immediately recognized me by NAME and I was flabbergasted. I never looked at Falmouth Road Race again afterwards as just another bucket race, it became personal.
    Such as the LEGACY of such a person that he effected or affected. whatever, He did BOTH. He was an influence to common runners and not only the elites.
    He WAS that person that you never forgot after meeting………………….RIP

  5. Very nice tribute, Toni, and I absolutely loved the pictures. I know Tommy most from my years at the race he helped start, the Falmouth Road Race, and he was both memorable and iconic to me. He helped memorialize New England road racing with both his personality and his running event work. I will never forget Tommy and his larger than life personality. I am better off…. and our sport is better off….for Tommy Leonard having been in our lives. Heaven is definitely a much livelier place now, to be sure! RIP, Tommy! We will be toasting a pint to you all week in memoriam….

  6. Such sad news. Tommy had an enormous impact on my life in so many ways. I will forever be grateful. RIP, Tommy.

  7. Ah, yes…a loss, and yet when one thinks of the life he lived and the memories he left us with, not really a loss but rather a realization that he was a gift, a gift we will never lose. His final words were exquisitely perfect.

    1. Love chatting with him in Falmouth but mostly at the Elliot Lounge. He was a legend. Back in the 80’s early 90’s that was the place to be on the Thursday before the Boston Marathon. He will be remembered for his love of running. I will remember him from the Elliot lounge

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