Founder of the Falmouth Road Race and co-founder of the Falmouth Walk, Thomas Francis Leonard died in January of this year at age 85. Tommy is best remembered as an enthusiastic promoter of running before running became a “thing;” as the official greeter of the Boston Marathon during his many years behind the bar of the Eliot Lounge; as the inspiration, along with fellow Boston bartender Eddie Doyle of Cheers, of the “Bring back Mack “campaign—dedicated to raising money to replace the bronze statue of the stolen duck in the Boston Public Garden; as an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan despite growing up in western Massachusetts; and as the inspiration behind many road races throughout New England.
That’s what Tommy did, but how he did it has to do with who he was and how he lived his life. Tommy had a knack for bringing people together. He was able to get the most out of people by showing an energetic optimism, knowing anything is possible. Mostly, he had a giving heart, which made it nearly impossible to say no to whatever he was pitching.
His greatest contribution here in Falmouth is the Falmouth Road Race. The seeds for the Falmouth Road Race were planted in Tommy’s head in summer 1972, when he watched Frank Shorter win the Olympic gold medal for the marathon in Munich. Tommy was the bartender at the Brothers Four at the time and, according to local legend, he refused to serve anyone until the marathon was over and Frank crossed the finish line. No one seemed to mind because of Tommy’s excitement. Of course, that got him thinking, “What if we got Frank to run in a race here in Falmouth?”
We all know the rest of that story. The Falmouth Road Race is one of the top races and the best 7.01-mile course in the world. As the race continued to grow under the guidance of Rich and Kathy Sherman and John and Lucinda Carroll, it attracted thousands of visitors to Falmouth on the third Sunday in August. Tommy had another idea—all these people coming to Falmouth needed something to do on Saturday. He, along with his good friend Eddie Doyle, decided that a walk to raise money for the Babe Ruth World Series held at Guv Fuller Field would fit the bill. And so it began; the first Falmouth Walk in 1991 attracted 50 people who walked a variation of the road race course in reverse back to Woods Hole.
With Tommy as the event coordinator, the return bus was two hours late, but Tommy and friends had time for a few cold ones in the Hole.
Like the Falmouth Road Race, the idea of the Falmouth Walk may have started with a thought from Tommy, but its growth resulted from the dedication of many committee members and volunteers over the years of whom, Tommy’s friend and co-founder, Eddie Doyle, remains actively engaged in the work today. Tommy’s vision of creating a fun event for people of all ages to get out and exercise while raising money for local charities continues to engage the community, from 50 walkers in 1991 to 750 in 2018. The walk has generated more than a half-million dollars for local charities since its launch in 1991.
Tommy’s legacy lives on through all of us he connected to new friends and new purposes. Tommy is one of a kind; the kind we need more of in this world. He continues to bring family and friends, old and new, together to Falmouth on the third weekend in August. And thanks to Tommy and Eddie Doyle, many more families have been helped through their commitment to giving back to local charities.
Those who would like to help honor the spirit of this remarkable man may participate in the Falmouth Walk on Saturday, August 17.
See the details at www.falmouthwalk.org.
The Falmouth Walk steps off from Town Hall Square at 10 AM on Saturday, August 17, and finishes on the grounds of St. Barnabas Church. There will be a picnic that includes pasta, ice cream, fruit and beverages, events for kids, a fantastic live auction, silent auction and raffle. Tommy would always describe it as a Norman Rockwell moment and Eddie, while sitting on the back steps of St. Barnabas would always say, “I just don’t want this moment to end.”
Mr. and Ms. Pelletier are members of the Falmouth Walk Committee.