On Monday, April 16, the Quarterdeck Restaurant on Main Street, Falmouth, opened earlier than usual to celebrate Marathon Monday and the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon.
Inside the Main Street restaurant sat Tommy Leonard, a founder of the Falmouth Road Race and a celebrity among Boston Marathon runners.
Mr. Leonard sat at the last seat of the bar, the one farthest away from the door. This seat is known to be his. He rested his hands on the glossy wood, looking forward to one of the televisions displaying marathon coverage.
He wore a blue, windbreaker-style jacket with three white stripes down each arm. This was a Boston Marathon jacket from one of the many marathons he ran, upward of 20 of them. On top of his head was a black, nylon baseball cap that read “BOSTON.”
As patrons approached Mr. Leonard, all offering a hello and a pat on the back, he returned each greeting with a larger than life smile and thanked them for coming to celebrate one of Boston’s most notable athletic traditions. At 84 years of age, his mind and spirit remain sharp.
Behind the bar and all around the space were pieces of marathon memorabilia, many of which belong to or are in honor of Mr. Leonard. Since coming to work at the Quarterdeck as a bartender in 1998, he has called this restaurant home.
Prior to bartending on the Cape, Mr. Leonard worked at the now-closed Eliot Lounge in Boston on the corner of Massachusetts and Commonwealth avenues. The Eliot Lounge was once considered the unofficial finish line for the Boston Marathon, mostly due to the fact that Mr. Leonard held a weeklong celebration there for the marathon every year. Runners from across the globe would come together for a free pint with their bib at a bash to honor running for a cause. Over the years, both the Eliot and Mr. Leonard became marathon staples.
“Running has been good to me,” Mr. Leonard said, beginning to speak on what the iconic Boston event means to him while picking at a piece of banana bread. “I love the marathon with a passion that would probably shatter the foundation of the Bourne Bridge. It is my favorite weekend of the year—in the city you can see the magnolias and dogwoods really pop.”
Mr. Leonard ran his first Boston Marathon in 1953 while serving in the Marines. He fell in love with the sport while attending Westfield High School and ran with that love for years and many marathons more.
“I get sick every year at the time of the marathon,” Mr. Leonard said in regard to his feelings toward the significant weekend. “I’m so overcome with emotion. I used to love walking down Boylston and Newbury streets, hearing the work crews putting up the barricades and assembling the finish line.”
In conjunction with his passion for the Boston Marathon, Mr. Leonard thought it would be great to see distinguished athletes participate in a race right here on Cape Cod. Thus, in 1973, the Falmouth Road Race was born and, decades later, the Falmouth Walk to benefit local charities, in which Mr. Leonard worked alongside fellow barman Eddie Doyle, who for 35 years had been a bartender at the Bull & Finch—later known as “Cheers.” Both men were dedicated to their craft and had a passion for not just the business of running, but also running to help others. The walk alone raises approximately $30,000 each year. Together, the Falmouth Road Race and the Falmouth Walk are considered summertime traditions among many.
“I said it’s going to start from scratch and one day it’s going to be big,” Mr. Leonard said of the Falmouth Road Race.
He was right. In 1973, the Falmouth Road Race had 93 participants. Today, approximately 12,800 people register to run the seven-mile race.
Mr. Leonard added that while everyone liked to ask him how much money they made from the race and the walk (which is held the day prior to the race each year), he said that he did not care to talk about the money, as the events are not about that; they are about making people happy.
On happiness, Mr. Leonard said that what makes the Quarterdeck special to him are the intimacy and friendliness of the restaurant and bar he once tended.
“I used the same formula when I worked here that I used when I worked at the Eliot,” Mr. Leonard said. “I want to make people feel comfortable and make them want to come back when they walk out the door.”
Despite his many feats and honors in the running community, including a bridge dedicated in his name just before the Boston Marathon finish line, and his all-around goodheartedness, a characteristic attributed to him by many, Mr. Leonard continues to shy away from the spotlight. He said that he receives too much credit—most all would disagree.
“I’ve had more than my share of days of glory,” Mr. Leonard said while staring off at an invisible, distant point. “It’s time to fade into the sunset.”