I speak for a grateful club and its membership. A club that was honoured to have Leon as a member.
Many of us here today are long time and committed members but we will never get a memorial like this nor be able to pull a crowd like this. Most of us will be lucky if someone notices that we haven’t been seen at the club for a few weeks.
So what was it about Leon Heywood that was so special?
Leon was a club member from 1977 to 2014 (37 years). He was made a life member in 2012, in grateful recognition of his contribution to the club.
I suspect that he first joined the club because of snooker. In the 70’s the snooker club was extremely strong, boasting people like Eddie Charlton in its ranks and Leon had won for himself something of a national profile having been runner up in the National Snooker Championships in 1976, at the tender age of 24.
I will leave it to others to tell you of his misspent youth in sleepy Adelaide that turned him into a budding snooker champion at such an early age.
I think we can all well imagine the early days when this skinny, baby faced upstart would arrive cue in hand. The seasoned players would have thought “come in sucker”, only to see “Cool Hand Leon” clean up the table in front of them.
In his heyday, as a snooker player, Leon competed with success in major tournaments in both Australia and overseas. In 1984, he turned professional and featured in many close matches in the Australian Professional Championships from 1984 – 1988. In 1984 Leon rose to no. 98 in the world rankings. At that time Eddie Charlton was no. 12 and Steve Davis was world no. 1.
Leon was built for snooker and billiards. Long, lean and flexible with a good eye, sure hand, cool head and strong will to win.
Most here will recall from watching Pot Black on TV that snooker was a gentleman’s game where players dressed stylishly with vest, bowtie and long sleeve shirt. No one spoke or made a sound while players concentrated and prepared to shoot, and all applauded a good break and a good game. Opponents behaved with decorum at all times with a sportsmanlike smile and a handshake at the end (and probably a quiet drink or two later). It was a game where elegance, style, sportsmanship and civility all came together.
This was Leon’s sporting kindergarten. It sowed the seeds for things to come.
His feats in the CTC Snooker Club are well captured in the club’s recorded history.
In the CTC book published in 1995 called “A Centenary of Achievements”, a page is given over to the Snooker Club and Leon’s name appears prominently.
One quote from the page is as follows;”Some of the great Australian players who have been Snooker Club members or who have played at City Tatts include Horace Lindstrum, Eddie Charlton, Norman Squires, Frank Harris, John Campbell, Warren King and Leon Heywood.”
“Leon Heywood was the first Australian amateur to achieve the feat (of scoring the maximum snooker break of 147) in 1979.”
There are three honour boards presently hanging in the Club’s snooker room. Leon’s name appears on all three. One board is headed “Notable Achievements”, Leon is there for the highest possible snooker break (147) in 1979.
Another board records “Billiard Champions” over the years. Leon is there as champion in 1981.
The final board records the “Snooker Champions”. Leon is there as champion in 1990.
So having become a champion in the game of small balls, Leon’s competitive yearnings must have caused him to lift his gaze from the green felt to challenges of a different kind.
At some point, Leon drifted across to the club gymnasium. We can speculate that he had heard of the legendry George Daldry and his Spartan training classes and Leon thought he might give this a try.
The long slender physique that had served him so well in snooker was not nearly so well suited for the demands of a Daldry directed gym class. The little balls that he had mastered were replaced with 5 and 7 pound medicine balls.
It has become the stuff of gym legend, how Daldry admonished our champion on more than one occasion for not holding the big ball out straight. There is an amusing photograph in Daldry’s book “Stopping the Clock” showing the gym class in action and Leon is front and centre battling to hold a pair of weights above his head with straight arms.
The Neanderthals from the class, who could handle the gruelling routines better, would often stir our Leon about his shortcomings but Leon, never one to take himself or the gym classes too seriously, would simply laugh it off. When it came to stirring the pot, Leon could always give as much as he got.
What Leon lacked in brute strength, he made up for with sheer effort and determination, always giving 100%. He continued to be a wholehearted “trier” in the gym classes to the end, a period of over 25 years.
Although I never saw him run, I am told that he was also a member of the Harriers, (the running club).
Leon was always mobile enough but he was built more for speed over a short distance than for endurance, so his name does not appear on any Harrier’s roll of honour.
I have little doubt Leon would have also looked at the swimming club (the Cheetahs) but I never saw Leon swim a stroke the whole of the time I knew him, so again he didn’t make a splash in that arena.
So, the question for our champion was where to from here? He was in search of the next field of endeavour in which he could excel.
This journey so far had taught him a lot about himself:
• Great with the small ball.
• Superior ball/eye coordination.
• Mobile over short distances.
• Excellent competitive instincts.
• Avoid pursuits involving brute strength, gruelling endurance and water.
One day it must have hit him like a truck!! The pursuit he was looking for was there at the gym all the time. Racquetball!!
But, racquetball in the 1980’s and 1990’s was played very differently to how it is played now.
Back then, the racquet ball courts were a bear pit. Winning points was as much about bluff and bluster, sledging and abuse, as it was about ability and talent. It was a loud, aggressive, uncouth affair. Don’t get me wrong, the jungle animals who competed could play and play well but, there was this other dimension to it.
It was not the place for the feint hearted or those of delicate sensibilities and I noted that not a lot of new players enrolled.
This was the fray that our Leon entered. Whilst Leon could hustle and bluff with the best of them and could get into his opponents face if he had to defend a hard won point, you could tell his heart was not in it. This was not the sporting background that he had come from. It was so far removed from the respectful charm of “pot black” etiquette.
Despite the mismatch, Leon went on to win championship after championship. The honour boards at the gym record him as winning in 1997, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2005. In the years from 1995 to 2005, if he wasn’t champion he was most likely the runner up.
In 2004, Leon became the president of the Racquetball Club and stayed in that role until he had to step down. In this role as champion and president, Leon brought on many new players and encouraged them in the game. He would mentor them himself. I was one such player and there are many others in this room today.
As the mentor and instructor, Leon taught a friendlier, more gentlemanly but equally competitive brand of play. Much of that prior sound and fury fell away and new players felt more comfortable about joining in.
Like most good mentors, Leon taught we novices enough to make you competitive but pulled up short of making you a true contender for his crown.
Every now and again when I played him, I would have him down and on the rack (or so I thought) and then he would start talking aloud to himself. He would urge himself on with “come on champion.” “you can take this champion”. I don’t know whether it was purely self motivational, or whether it was to distract his opposition. Either way, it often had the desired effect.
Like most of the good players, Leon had an excellent eye for the ball, but it was amazing what a bad eye he had for line calls in a tight game. This was probably a carry-over from his years in the bear pit. I recall how you would hit a winner that was close to line or on the line and “in”, and you could count on Leon’s cheeky call, “That’s out”. You would of course protest, and Leon wanting to avoid the nasty shouting matches of old, would graciously say “OK, let’s play the point again”.
So games with Leon were more often than not, long drawn out affairs.
In addition to building the number of racquetball players, Leon started the annual racquetball competition with the Harbord Diggers Club, where the best from both clubs went head to head in a friendly, gentlemanly contest. Then all would dress up and adjourn upstairs for fine dining and more than a few friendly ales.
Here Leon was in his element. He was the ultimate host, welcoming, charming and hospitable. He was a wonderful ambassador for the club and he revelled in the role.
Leon had added class, elegance and society to the game of racquetball.
By this time, Leon had cemented his position as a leader in the gym and was very comfortable in the role of organiser, host and M.C. He took it on himself to arrange many functions for gym members recognising important milestones. His kindness and consideration toward others was widely recognised, admired and appreciated.
The true mark of this champion was best seen after he received that dark diagnoses, some 7 – 8 years ago. They say that stars shine brightest in the dark. That was certainly true of our Leon.
It was nothing short of awe inspiring how he remained positive and upbeat throughout that difficult journey. We all saw how, with deteriorating strength and often seriously affected by the treatments, he would still front up and do the gym classes as best he could. He continued to be able to laugh. I recall one joker telling him that his medications must be performance enhancing because he was doing the classes better than he had ever done them before.
We watched him chat and drink with us after the classes as though nothing was happening – nothing was wrong.
He was absolute proof that life is not so much about what happens to you but how you deal with it.
We saw him defy the odds for years but then no one expected anything different. Leon of course means “Lion” and there can be no doubt about our Leon’s lion heart over this time. With the odds piled against him, he continued on with the pluck, grit and determination that most of us can only hope for.
His happy, chatty, friendly manner never deserted him. The last time I saw Leon (which was a few months before he left for Adelaide) he was in the Lower Bar holding court. Typically, he dismissed talk of his health and he asked about the club and as he usually did, gave me his ideas (and he had many) as to how the club might be improved and new initiatives it might consider.
Leon’s interest in the club was absolutely genuine. He loved the club. It was truly his home away from home.
As great as he was for the club, I think he would be the first to say that the club gave him more – friendship, society, purpose, position and interest and of course, his championships!
I know that he was blown away by the way members rallied to his aid when a fund raiser was held for him some years ago – so the relationship was very much a two-way street.
I don’t know much about Leon’s life outside of City Tatts. I know that he lived by his wits. He was an “ideas” man and over the years had a hand in many different ventures and endeavours. Most people who live that way are usually forced to compromise on principle from time to time – but not our Leon. In the 30 years that I knew him, I never heard one bad word said of him. He was popular, respected and well liked. He was engaging company with a great sense of humour and to top it all off, a man of principle and integrity.
He told a very good friend (who is here today) shortly before he died, that he had lived life to the full and had no regrets at all.
Leon’s name is etched for perpetuity into the history of our club, in its books and on its honour boards. His memory is etched into the hearts and minds of all who knew and admired him. We knew him as a champion. Yes, a champion snooker and billiards player and a champion racquetball player, but much more importantly, a champion bloke!
And that is why we are all here today!
On behalf of a grateful club, thank you champion and farewell.
City Tattersalls Club