Paula Leonard — a longtime Westport resident, active volunteer, well-known realtor, and a driving force behind the creation of both the Senior Center and The Saugatuck senior moderate housing building — died peacefully on May 25, surrounded by her family. She was 88.
The eldest of 3 daughters, Paula and her sisters moved frequently as children. Their father, Wendell Campbell was a CBS Radio executive who was often relocated. The Campbells lived in Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota and Illinois before arriving in Westport for Paula’s senior year at Staples High School.
After college, she attended the Katharine Gibbs School and was hired as the secretary for William Rudkin, son of Pepperidge Farm founder Margaret Rudkin.
Soon thereafter Paula met her future husband of 60-plus years, Dick Leonard. Local lore has it that when Dick asked if anyone wanted to dance on a table at Cafe Barna, Paula raised her hand.
Paula and Dick Leonard.
Married in 1957, Dick and Paula soon had 4 children born roughly 16 months apart: Rick, Jim, Anne and Carey. In 1970, they added a caboose, Colin, to the Leonard train.
The through line in Paula’s life was one of craft. Her ability to figure out how to make or do just about anything was well known. An extraordinary wife, mother, cook, needlewoman – and later in life, beader – Paula also became a leading real estate agent in Westport in her 50’s, with Merrill Lynch Real Estate and then Prudential Real Estate. She sustained her career well into her 70’s.
She specialized in antique houses, and sold the first $1 million house in Westport in the early 1980’s. She adored selling homes, and helping them settle in the town she and Dick loved. She always said, “I sold Westport. The house came with it.”
Her passion for all things Westport took many forms. A member of the Westport
Commission for Senior Services for more than 20 years, as chair Paula drove the concept, construction and opening of the Westport Senior Center on Imperial Avenue.
She helped lead the conversion of the former Saugatuck Elementary School into The Saugatuck, making moderate income housing available for aging town residents. She also helped create the first tax deferral program for seniors in the state.
Paula, with her Prudential colleague Jean Coleman, launched and sponsored for years the Westport Historical Society’s annual fundraiser, the Hidden Garden Tour, which showcased some of the town’s most beautiful gardens.
She was also active with the Westport WarmUp fund, helping income-quali1ed households with winter home heating expenses.
When her children were young, in her role on Westport’s PTA Council, Paula spearheaded the town’s first dedicated bike lanes to Compo Beach on Compo Road South.
An ardent cook, she was an early adopter of Julia Child and Elizabeth David. Paula enjoyed narratives around food and ingredients. She once carried a large potted basil plant to Martha’s Vineyard on her lap (via car and ferry), with young children in tow, to offer it to her hostess long before fresh herbs were available outside the garden.
In the 1970’s, she and fellow Westporter Pat Kessler wrote a cookbook, on how to transition from cooking for a large family to cooking for two without resorting to packaged or processed food.
In 1998, Dick and Paula built a second home in Biddeford Pool, Maine, where the family had vacationed for years. “The Boathouse” became a summer gathering spot for their children, their spouses, and a growing corps of grandchildren.
Paula spent her days body surfing, and taking long walks with their chocolate labs Pool and Abbie.
She took up golf, and hosted the children and their families at lively dinners, followed by memorable charades games with Dick’s Staples High School English teacher colleague Joy Walker and her husband Bill.
Paula Leonard (seated, center) and her extended family.
Preceded in death by her husband Dick in 2018, Paula is survived by her sisters Happy Van Sickle of Chatham, Massachusetts and Beth Lane of Newport Beach, California; children Rick (Amy) of Westport; Jim (Story) of Santa Fe, New Mexico; Anne Hardy (Jim) of Westport; Carey (Cheryl) of Stratford, and Colin (Kadie) of Fayetteville, New York, and grandchildren Lizzie Leonard, Will Hardy, Kelsey Leonard, Ned Hardy, Molly Leonard, Charlie Leonard, Amanda Leonard, Campbell Leonard, Megan Leonard, Annie Leonard and Sophie Leonard.
A celebration of Paula’s life is planned for Sunday, June 25 (3 p.m., Westport
Senior Center), with a reception following.
In lieu of flowers, donations to The Paula & Dick Leonard Memorial Award at Staples Tuition Grants are most welcome.