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Tommy Leonard, a fixture of the Boston running scene, dies at 85

Tommy Leonard was the founder of the Falmouth Road Race and beloved denizen of the Boston running scene in years gone by

The Boston area lost a longtime stalwart of the city’s running scene last week. Tommy Leonard, a former bartender at the Eliot Lounge at the corner of Commonwealth and Massachusetts and the founder of the Falmouth Road Race, died on January 16 at age 85 after a long illness.

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Leonard was a legend in Boston, and the local press is full of stories about his continual high spirits, his generosity and his many charitable acts. Leonard was from Westfield, Mass., about 100 kilometres west of Boston, where he ran in high school. He later joined the marines, bartended in Falmouth, and competed in the Boston Marathon in the 1950s. Some claim he ran it 24 times. (Competed may be a relative term. Some say Leonard would frequently stop for a beer at the various bars along the course.) After seeing Frank Shorter win the Olympic marathon in 1972, Leonard created the seven-mile Falmouth Road Race on Cape Cod the following year.

Leonard’s likeness is cast in bronze on an outside wall of the Captain Kidd restaurant in Woods Hole, Mass., where the race starts, according to an account in the Boston Heraldand over the years it has grown into one of the most prestigious races in the world.

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One story has Leonard gathering a bunch of local runners at the Eliot Lounge sometime after Rosie Ruiz falsely claimed victory in 1980, to sing O Canada to the real winner, Canada’s Jacqueline Gareau. (A story in Outside magazine even has Leonard presenting Gareau with two dozen yellow roses and a bottle of Dom Perignon.)

The Eliot Lounge closed in 1996.