Richard H. Leet, retired vice chairman of Amoco Corporation and a member of the Board of Trustees at Brenau University, died on Friday, Aug. 9, in Gainesville, Ga. He was 86.
Throughout his career and following his retirement as a top executive with one of the world’s leading petrochemical companies, Leet was active in many civic and charitable organizations nationally and in his adopted “home towns” of Chicago and Gainesville.
Leet’s survivors include his wife Phyllis, his sister Barbara Ricklefs of Kansas City, Kan., his children Richard and Pam Leet of Germantown, Tenn., Dana Leet of Germantown, Tenn., and Alan and Debbie Leet of Eggleston, Va., and eleven grandchildren and great grandchildren.
“This is not only a huge loss for Brenau University but also for me personally,” said Brenau University President Ed Schrader. “Dick Leet has been a wise counselor, a dear friend and an inspiration. As a leader on the university’s board of trustees, there was no one with greater passion for ‘doing things right’. Dick believed that a good education, the appropriate amount of hard work, coupled with a well-tuned moral compass, is the formula for personal and national success. He, along with his wife, Phyllis, have been well-respected leaders in the community and chief enthusiasts and financial supporters for Brenau University and its mission. He never did anything half way.”
Family and friends will celebrate Leet’s life of service to others at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 13, at the First United Methodist Church of Gainesville.
Scientist and Corporate Leader
Leet, a native of Maryville, Mo., interrupted his undergraduate studies at his hometown Northwest Missouri State University for service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. When he returned to campus following the war, he met Phyllis Combs, whom he called affectionately a “farm girl” from Princeton, Mo. She was a home economics major at the school. They married on Flag Day 64 years ago and celebrated their anniversary in June.
He later completed his Ph.D. in chemistry at The Ohio State University. After OSU, Leet joined the research team for Standard Oil of Indiana, part of Amoco. He spent half a decade studying lubricants. Then, he was put on the corporate executive track. Twenty-three jobs later in virtually every Amoco division, he retired in 1991 as the corporation’s vice chairman and moved permanently from the corporation’s headquarters city, Chicago, to Gainesville, Ga.
The Leets had bought a home in Gainesville on Lake Lanier in the 1980s, planning when they retired to move close to their three grown children, Rick, Alan and Dana, all of whom had settled in the Southeast. During what Leet humorously referred to as “a visit to our own home” in Gainesville, he read that Brenau was seeking to beef up its art collection.
Although neither Leet nor his wife had any direct ties to the Georgia college, they were avid collectors of paintings and rare books. So, he called the university to see if he could help. Brenau quickly recruited Leet for service on the Brenau Board of Trustees, and he has served in that capacity since. He was involved as a trustee in the transformation of Brenau, founded in 1878 as a women’s college, to a university, which offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a doctorate in nursing and planned clinical doctorates in physical therapy and occupational therapy.
In 2007, Leet donated part of his and Phyllis’ rare books collection to the Brenau Trustee Library. The collection had special meaning to him, he explained, because he started it about the same time that he started dating Phyllis. He said in a 2007 interview that, as a young veteran back in school after the war, he spent his last $40 at an estate sale buying a carload of old books. They covered every subject imaginable –18th century medical texts, novels and preachy religious tomes with titles like the one that warned of “The Punishment of Sin in Hell,” published in 1610.
“I thought it was a little odd,” Phyllis Leet said in 2007, recalling her first encounter with Leet and the eclectic collection of leather-bound titles stacked in his dining room. However, she was also enamored of the chemistry major who “just liked books…. I was just as excited as he was.”
At the May commencement ceremony, Brenau University presented both Leets honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees for their personal service and philanthropy. According to Schrader, the Leets in their extensive personal contributions to myriad institutions and organizations, donated to Brenau alone close to $4 million in direct support. That included funding for development of a modern chemistry laboratory, support for undergraduate research, and other physical sciences activities; a perpetual endowment for a named professorship – the Richard and Phyllis Leet Distinguished Chair of Biological Science at Brenau; establishment of a pool of funds, based on both vision and experience in big-dollar fundraising campaigns for higher education, to support administration and marketing for the university’s proposed $60 million capital campaign which Leet helped plan; and, annual fund contributions in the tens of thousands of dollars since the Leets’ initial involvement with Brenau.
Lifetime of Service
Last year the North Georgia Community Foundation in Gainesville named Dick and Phyllis Leet the foundation’s 2012 Philanthropists of the Year for their continuing support for Brenau, the Boys Scouts of America, Elachee Nature Science Center, the Arts Council, Quinlan Visual Arts Center, Northeast Georgia Medical Center and Gainesville First Methodist Church.
The Leets also provided extensive support to Northwest Missouri State, which honored them for their creation of that university’s Early Care and Education Laboratory Center and Horace Mann Laboratory School, renamed the Phyllis and Richard Leet Center for Children and Families. In 1988, the Leets created the Phyllis Combs Leet Scholarship Fund for entering freshmen in the family and consumer sciences program and a scholarship named for Dick Leet’s mentor, J. Gordon Strong. In addition to Dick Leet’s service as chair of Northwest’s successful inaugural capital campaign during the early 2000s, both Dr. and Mrs. Leet served on the board of the Northwest Foundation. Leet also had run as a volunteer what at the time was the largest fundraising campaign in the history of Ohio State.
He has been active in a number of business and professional organizations. In addition to support for his schools, Leet throughout his career was involved with organizations like the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, the Illinois Cancer Council, the Crusade of Mercy, and the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which bestowed on him its highest honor, the Silver Buffalo Award.
The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, those wishing to honor Leet contribute to the Northeast Georgia Council of the Boy Scouts of America or to a charity of the donor’s choice.