2003-02-22 / Community

Remembering Rockaway Icon Leon Locke

By Susan B. Locke


It was a sight familiar to most of those who live in Rockaway, Leon Locke sitting in the window at The Wave, just watching Rockaway pass by.

Leon was at The Wave office seven days a week, and friends, neighbors and adversaries knew they could always find him there for lively conversation or a livelier debate.

February 23 marks the second anniversary of the untimely death of Leon S. Locke, publisher of The Wave for more than 25 years.

Through his efforts The Wave grew in size from a broadsheet to a tabloid that often boasts 84 or 90 pages. Beyond his efforts to make The Wave the voice of all the people of Rockaway, however, Locke had a visible and enduring effect on many aspects of life in the Rockaway community. He loved Rockaway and worked hard through its many organizations to improve the quality of life for all of Rockaway's residents.

He was a long-time member of Community Board 14 the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce, the 100 Precinct Community Council, the Rockaway Music and Arts Council, to name a few. He was a founding member of The Rockaway Museum, Peninsula Volunteer Ambulance Corps and helped restore the Cornell Cemetery in Far Rockaway. He was honored by the Chamber of Commerce, and was selected to be a Deputy Marshal of the St. Patrick's Day Parade. The walls of The Wave's office were covered with honors given to The Wave and to Locke for his efforts for and support of organizations throughout the peninsula. He sponsored athletic teams, offered internships to high school and college students and supported innovative ideas offered by those who came to him for advice. If an idea was possible his advice was to "do it." The worst that could happen was that it would not work out and then you'll just try again. That's the way he approached life.

We were married for almost 33 years but knew each other since our teenage years when we became best friends. We listened to rock & roll. He had a pretty good voice. He knew the words to every song as well as the singers, and the label. We had to have furniture specially built for his incredible collection of 45's and albums. He loved Rock & Roll but hated to dance so he would sit and hold my hand while I danced to the music. Leon was a poet. He would write his poetry on scraps of paper or on the back of an envelope, whichever was near, when the thoughts came to him. His poetry was both funny and insightful. Every now and then I find something he wrote and squirreled away. He had a great sense of humor and could deliver a joke like a pro. Unlike me, he always remembered the punch line. Leon loved to travel, especially on the QE2. He loved to surprise me with the itinerary of our next trip, sometimes before we returned home from the last. He once asked me what my favorite food was; of course knowing my answer would be Chinese food. He said, "I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you're going to have Chinese food everyday for two weeks. The bad news is that you have to pack. We're leaving for China next week." And we did. It was an incredible journey together. We made many journeys together and I have so many enduring memories.

A strange event happened to me last week. Many years ago, on a trip to Maine, we bought an old wind up Victrola. Last week when I came home from work I heard a repetitive noise coming from the cabinet. I had trouble opening the cabinet but when I finally did I found one of Leon's favorite 78's, by The Teenagers, turning on the turntable. In order to play a record you must first crank up the handle on the outside and then slide the dial to "on". I had not opened the cabinet in almost two years and yet the dial was on and the table was turning. Perhaps Leon was trying to tell me something.

So much has happened since his passing. The world has changed in ways I don't think he would have imagined. The events of September 11, 2001, the crash of flight 587, the memorials, the abundance of building in Rockaway, terrorism and the resulting anxiety and economic downturn, and the incessant march to war. I know that we would have had many disagreements over war, we always did. He would say "bombs aweigh", I would look for more peaceful solutions to problems. His presence is always here at The Wave. We will carry on and continue to be the voice of the Rockaways. We will miss him but never forget him.

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