American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Richard Manning Leonard, 1908-1993

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1994



Richard Manning Leonard, a member of the American Alpine Club since 1936, was elected to Honorary Membership in 1981. He was born in Elyria, Ohio. He was a former president of both the Sierra Club and the Save-the- Redwoods League. He was active in the Wilderness Society, the Conservation Law Society of America, the Trustees for Conservation, the Varian Foundation and the Forest Genetics Research Foundation.

After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California’s School of Law, he was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1933. After serving as chief attorney for the Regional Agricultural Credit Corporation, he entered private practice in San Francisco in 1938. He retired in the early 1980s. During World War II, he was an officer in the Office of the Quartermaster General in Washington on the development of Army clothing and equipment and then served in the Asian theater.

Dick is survived by his wife Doris, whom he married in 1934, two daughters and two grandchildren.

Aside from his life-long work for conservation, Dick was an early pioneer in Western mountaineering. His Belaying the Leader, written in 1946, became the bible of rock climbers during the rapid development of the sport.

I first got to know Dick in the early 1930s when a small group of Sierra Club members began to practice climbing in the Berkeley hills area of Cragmont Rock. These rocks, never more than 25 to 40 feet above the base, had vertical faces which offered us real challenges. Dick, Bestor Robinson and I formed a team and went on to the Yosemite. The Cathedral Spires were still unclimbed and the walls were spectacular to neophytes like us. Dick and I led the high- angle climbing; Bestor, married and with two children in the nest, was our belayer par excellence. The result was a strong rope team of three. Dick and I had difficulty in finding what we could not climb, despite below-the-ankle tennis shoes. We never top-roped. We managed a large number of first ascents, including Leonard’s Minaret in 1932 and the Cathedral Spires in 1934.

The quality I particularly valued about Dick was his great joy in the art of climbing—so great was his exuberance that it simply oozed out of every pore of his body, creating a positive effect on the whole team. He was a most wonderful friend and partner the entire time I knew him. Such repeated experiences enjoyed then and relived many times both in private recall and in my fireside circle with my own children, with wilderness students and with mountain friends over the ensuing fifty years are the core of memory of my climbing partner.

Jules M. Eichorn

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