Deceased December 18, 1996
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It is with profound sadness that we recall the life of our friend Chris Leach, who passed away unexpectedly on December 18, 1996. The resume of Chris’s life is excerpted from the eulogy given by his father at the funeral in Tulsa on December 22. Following that is a series of collected remembrances by some of Chris’s friends from Amherst. Chris leaves his parents, James and Carole Leach, his sister Leslie, and many friends and relatives.
“Chris was born at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit on February 1, 1966. At his second birthday party, his family was playing a game of poker, and Chris remarked with glee, ‘I like chips.’ That never changed. Also at this birthday, Chris received a tiny record player. It seems he never stopped singing after that. His first performance on stage, in third grade, was a credible Donny Osmond imitation that he learned from tapes.
“Chris graduated from Holland Hall in Tulsa, OK, in 1984 and continued on to Amherst. I remember the sadness and joy in our hearts when we left him in such an idyllic setting. Those were amongst his happiest years. He made wonderful friends, struggled with calculus and physics and excelled in other things. He was determined to take all the courses which he felt would give him a well-rounded education regardless of the grades he received. In spite of his being a French major, Chris was intrigued by Japan. He spent a year away from Amherst, half in France and half in Japan. While at Amherst, he was a member of the Zumbyes, which was a highlight of his time there.
“After graduating from Amherst in 1989, Chris moved to Washington, D.C., and ended up working for NHK, the Japanese television network. He was involved in news production and covered such stories as the Gulf War, the Waco incident, and the 1992 presidential campaign. About three years ago, Chris enrolled in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia Univ. He was to have completed all of his work for his master’s degree on Saturday, December 21. In his last semester, he served an internship at CBS News and had recently been offered a position in the newsroom.
“Chris was thirty years old. He lived with an adventuresome spirit. He always wanted a challenge—the higher the mountain, the better. He would rather have tried and only partially succeeded than to have set the bar too low.”
Dr. James Leach
“I met Chris during my sophomore year, when we both lived in Newport House. During our senior year, we co-organized the ‘Festival de Jazz à Newport,’ which was his brainchild. Chris was at his happiest when he felt that he had done a good job bringing people together. More recently, during the years he lived in New York, he was constantly organizing outings in Central Park, trips to hear music at the MOMA, expeditions for Japanese or Korean food or maybe just a movie. He and David Truog ’89 put together a mini-reunion for ex-Newporters during the last Homecoming at Amherst. His passion for things was contagious. I owe my love of jazz to him, in particular Horace Silver, Art Blakely, Chet Baker, and Ella Fitzgerald. When I first bought my computer, he was my guru. He would also always challenge the need for technology and the viability of certain things which he saw as hyped. I owe the new direction in my life to him. Almost all the best movies I have seen in the last few years I saw with him; we also saw some real turkeys which he had insisted on, but we never needed to apologize to each other for bad recommendations.
“I am particularly grateful to him for his intellect, for the thought-provoking conversations we had, for his support and encouragement of my pursuits, and for being such a good friend to my wife Peggy. He was remarkable at accepting people and making them feel welcome. Although he may not have realized it himself, he had a real passion and lust for life.”
John Rabasa ‘89
“When I think of Chris, the first things that come to mind are his senses of freedom and fun. He had a truly unique sense of humor and a passion for jazz. I met him my freshman year at Amherst—he was one of the most outspoken members of the Zumbyes. He taught me about Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker—he taught me to scat. He loved to share what he knew, not to prove his superiority, but because he wanted you to feel what he felt. Japanese food, music, scatting, computers, the Internet, philosophy—even economists. I learned so much from Chris, and I feel fortunate to have maintained our friendship over the years after graduation. Our relationship was honest and close. We’d laugh, we’d share, we’d remember good times, we’d even talk about world economics. I’ve always heard people say that life is precious, life is short, life is now. Chris’s loss has taught me what that truly means.”
Brad Aspel ‘90
“It is difficult to write about the passing of Chris Leach, a friend who possessed such a warm and loving spirit. We shared many laughs, talks, and new experiences. I so clearly remember Chris ribbing me about South Hall parties during freshman year, and the times we spent going over composition papers for English 11 and other courses. I could always go to Chris with questions and, no matter what, he would take the time to give advice and encouragement. There was the summer of ’86 in Georgetown and, in particular, a magnificent evening at an Ella Fitzgerald concert. Chris was right there—with his characteristic welcoming smile—when my wife and I, newly wed, returned to the States from Africa. Thanks to him, I am a lover of Indian, Thai, and many other cuisines; moreover, I am now more open to seeking out untried experiences of many kinds. Chris is and always will be missed, but his memory lives on. He had an incredible impact and influence on those of us who had the good fortune to know him.”
Stan Lemons ‘88
“I don’t remember the exact moment when Chris and I became friends, but I do know that over the years we managed to become good ones, in spite of living together in D.C. and far apart in New York City. Chris made everyone close to him a better person. He respected consistency in beliefs and would challenge or cajole you into seeing their logical outcome. But most importantly, he made life more interesting and fun—whether he was singing a song, eating Indian food, meowing at Java or arriving barely on time to a movie. Even when exasperating, he was still fun.
“I will miss Chris deeply at my wedding this summer, when he would have been one of my groomsmen. But it is not only at that moment that I will miss him—I miss him now. I will miss Chris when I think of certain books, when I think of dirty apartments, when someone corrects my grammar, and when I hear certain songs. Even though I don’t know the moment we became friends, I do know that I will never stop being affected by our friendship”
Tim Allison ‘89
“I cannot explain to those who had not the good fortune to know Chris what made him so special and why he was so loved. No words could do his memory justice or suffice to describe the incredible loss those close to him have suffered.
“Obituaries tend to reduce people to their worldly achievements. While it would be impressive and simple to define Chris through his many accomplishments, it would be counter to all that Chris taught me, to how Chris esteemed and appreciated others—in short, to all that is Chris. I cannot write this. What I can do is to write of the profound effect Chris had on my life and self. Chris and I spoke nearly every day, though of late we lived on opposite coasts. In fact, we often joked about how we were personally responsible for the recent spate of proffered specials on long-distance phone rates and the general financial well-being of the U.S. telecommunications conglomerates. I would like to say that we sought to solve the ills of the world in our conversations or pondered Hegel’s idea of an enveloping Absolute, but in general, we discussed television or recounted the daily minutiae of our lives—or those of people on television. We would argue such things as the merits of the ‘blue channel’ and whether we were idiot savants or simply idiots. (Needless to say, conversations would abruptly cease when the answer to the latter question became self-evident.) Regardless of the topic of our discussion, however, I always came away with a renewed sense of perspective, for this was Chris’s forte. He was immensely knowledgeable in a seemingly infinite number of subjects (something I never quite understood since we seemed to be watching the same TV shows). Perhaps as a result, he had an incredibly open mind and heart. This intellectual combination allowed Chris to be meaningfully insightful regardless of the fatuity of the conversation.
“I am a far better person for these conversations and for my relationship with Chris. Chris taught me compassion, kindness, fun, generosity, humor, sincerity, and where to find good yakisoba at two in the morning. He provided invaluable support during some very trying times in my life, and I know that the unique perspective Chris imparted to me will continue to help me through trying times to come and will enhance my life forever. I am grateful and proud to have known Chris as I did. I miss him deeply.”
Kirk Prindle ‘89
“Try as I might, I simply cannot get my mind around the utterly incomprehensible idea that Chris is no longer just on the other end of the telephone line—five hours away by car—a mere hour-and-a-half by plane. Chris was the friend you could call (and I did) when you had an existential crisis at four in the morning. He was the friend who was interested and excited by anything good that happened to you and who listed patiently (most of the time) to endless complaints and griping about the not-so-good stuff. Chris forced his friends to consider their decisions and opinions—he only wanted the best for everyone he cared about. Every time I called Chris and said that I could only talk for a minute, we ended up having an hour-long conversation. He and I shared a love for languages and words, for music, and for things French. We had an annual competition to see which one of us had read more of the books listed in the New York Times Book Review’s ‘best books of the year’ issue. Chris could annoy me better than anyone else in the world, including my little sister—he loved nothing more than to get me really exasperated and then to needle me about how easily he could push my buttons. In response to my plans to move to France, he told me: ‘Now I know where I’ll be spending every summer for the rest of my life.’ I had already started looking forward to those summers. Like all long-term friends, we went through phases when we spoke several times a week and phases when we only talked once a month or so, but my heart always gave a happy little skip when I heard his cheerful ‘Hi, Deck-ola’ on the other end of the lines. When I have tough decisions to make, Chris will never cease to be the person with whom I really want to discuss things—I miss him more than words can express. I loved him deeply and always will.”
Decky Gander ‘89