John Leykam, a longtime Saint Mary's College employee and honorary alumnus whose loyalty to the Christian Brothers and the Gaels was unsurpassed, died of cancer on Friday, July 20, at his home in Concord. He was 63.
Mr. Leykam left a successful newspaper career to begin working at SMC in 1984 as director of public relations. Through more than 20 years of affiliation with the College, Mr. Leykam has also worked as a development officer and with the Athletics Department.
"He was an extraordinarily loyal person," said Brother Mel Anderson, former SMC president. "Once he came here, he was a staunch supporter of everything about the College. He was completely dedicated to the institution."
Athletic Director Mark Orr called him "a treasure to Saint Mary's."
"He epitomized what Saint Mary's is â€“ his loyalty, his thoughtfulness," he said. "He was willing to do anything for a student or an alum or a staff worker. Even though he may have been having a bad day, he did whatever was needed. He'd take the shirt right off his back for you."
Mr. Leykam had a number of bad days during the more than four years that he battled oral cancer, but he downplayed his problems and remained cheerful and optimistic. Doctors initially told him he had as little as three months to live, and as the years went on he often remarked that he savored the "borrowed time" he was living on.
"I've met a ton of people in my life, and John was one of the most remarkable people I've had a chance to work with," said Carl Clapp, the College's former athletic director and current associate athletics director at the University of Hawaii. "John had great relationships with everybody. People loved to visit with John. It was incredible to watch the way he was received, whether it was by people in the political arena, by donors, by alumni.
"John didn't work," Clapp continued. "He served his community. He never looked at it as â€˜what's in it for me?' He always looked at it in terms of how he could help someone else. He was a great ambassador for the College in the Bay Area."
Mr. Leykam's funeral Mass was celebrated on July 30 in the Saint Mary's Chapel, with more than 400 people in attendance. A reception followed in Oliver Hall.
Mr. Leykam, a New York native, graduated from Iona Prep and Iona College in New Rochelle and moved to the Bay Area in the early 1970s after starting in journalism as a sportswriter in Binghamton, New York. He worked as a writer, editor, business editor and columnist for Lesher Newspapers, whose flagship paper was the Contra Costa Times. During his journalism career, he won numerous awards from the Contra Costa Press Club. He also helped write a book on Contra Costa County's history, and was working on a book on the history of the Concord Rotary Club at the time of his death.
Along with his official duties at Saint Mary's, Mr. Leykam volunteered as moderator for the student newspaper, the Collegian, helped graduating students get jobs at media companies and wrote for Saint Mary's magazine (his final article will appear in the Fall 2007 edition) He started the Rossmoor Saint Mary's Club, was president of the Concord-Diablo Rotary Club and was active with the Moraga Kiwanis.
Mr. Leykam's son Scott '95 said his father encouraged him to enroll at Saint Mary's, and that he loved the College because it reminded him of Iona College, where he not only received his bachelor's degree in economics, but where his mother was longtime secretary to the president.
"Saint Mary's had the same values and ideas and beliefs," Scott said. "Iona was so near and dear to his heart. Saint Mary's was a lot of the same things."
Mr. Leykam was a fervent fan of Gael athletics and attended numerous games, both at home and one the road. In May 2007, he was inducted in the Saint Mary's Hall of Fame. He has also been awarded the Signum Fidei Award for outstanding participation in the goals of higher education in the spirit of the Christian Brothers and the Spirit Award from the athletics staff.
Dick Callahan, public address announcer for Gaels' men's basketball, said Mr. Leykam "was one of those fixtures that you saw at events. He was such a beacon of positivism all the time. He would always make you feel comfortable. He was like your best uncle who would make you feel good."
In December 2005, Mr. Leykam proudly celebrated the creation of the John Leykam Athletic Endowed Scholarship Fund, and then kept his vow to continue raising funds for it even as his cancer worsened.
Mr. Leykam is survived by his wife of 28 years, Christine; his son Scott and his wife, Amy Brandt Leykam '96 and their son Austin; and Christine's three children, Greg Crawford, Christopher Crawford and Mary Cox.
The family asks that donations be made to the John Leykam Scholarship Fund, Saint Mary's College of California, P.O. Box 4300, Moraga, CA, 94575.
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