Community marks Bailey Leopards 75th birthday
By Donna O'Neil, Managing Editor
A local icon celebrated a milestone this week as nearly 100 people were there to offer congratulations.
The Editor and Founder of The Williamson Leader, Bailey Leopard, turned 75 years old Tuesday. The event was marked with a proclamation read by County Mayor Rogers Anderson at a party held at Grace Health Care where Leopard currently resides.
In the proclamation, Anderson referenced Sept. 2, 1973 as the day the first edition of The Williamson Leader hit the streets and the 25-year run for the paper that was “Locally Owned and Locally Interested,” which featured news, sports, civic and social event articles featuring local residents and businesses.
Publishing weekly editions of The Williamson Leader and covering Franklin and the county was not a foray into the industry; it was the result of a “lifelong dream” and culmination of years of hard work and long hours.
The aerospace industry brought him to work in the Nashville area with a job in PR, but he’d always wanted his own newspaper.
“I studied the newspapers in the area,” Leopard said, “trying to buy one and none of them were for sale – so I decided to start my own.”
With a dedicated staff and family who worked countless hours the paper was dedicated to local coverage – and also bore Leopard’s signature no-holds-barred reporting and opinion.
For years his column Leopard Spots was a must-read for people to find out the story behind the story or if they happened to be the subject of the story. In the Aug. 5, 1978 edition, he summarized the then-recent election as, “Another election is over. There are some winners and a whole lot of losers. That’s the way it always is in politics.”
You may not have always agreed with Leopard, but readers always knew where he stood. In the same column, he also wrote, “A stranger entering Williamson County, or any other of Tennessee’s 94 counties, would not have to be told the state has just had an election campaign. He would have only to look at the posterclad utility poles and makeshift signs along the roadside.”
“Supporters of the candidates enthusiastically tacked up the posters and signs during the campaign. But will they be back with the same gusto to remove them?”
“Hades will freeze over first. Supporters of the victorious candidates will be too busy celebrating. Supporters of the losers could care less what happens now.”
It was also in this edition that his good friend Roy Barker won the Democratic nomination to the 61st District seat in the General Assembly. Leopard and Barker knew each other from Leopard’s days as president of Noble Dury Public Relations in Nashville. The firm was hired by the Public Information and Elections Committee Constitutional Convention to promote the benefits of a tri-tiered tax classification that promoted tax relief for Tennessee residents. The classification is in place today and Barker was the chairman of the committee at the time.
In his proclamation, Anderson referenced Leopard’s participation in the tax classification amendment by stating, “even prior to opening the local newspaper, Mr. Leopard’s interest in the community sparked his involvement in the 1971 Tennessee Constitutional Amendment which would permit the classification of property for tax purposes into three classes – real property, tangible personal property, and intangible personal property; and whereas said Constitutional Amendment was successful in passing and the Williamson County Assessor’s office utilizes these classifications and differing values today.
Leopard suffered a debilitating stroke shortly after the paper’s 20th anniversary edition. But dedicated family members and staff kept the weekly publication going until Leopard could retain some of his editorial duties. Daughter Becky was instrumental in keeping the paper running, said her mom. “We couldn’t have done it without her. Although it wasn’t her chosen career path, she jumped in and did just about everything that needed to be done.” The family managed to keep the paper in print for another five years after his stroke.
Leopard, the man with a “gift for editing” began newspaper career began back in his teens. As an eighth-grader at Athens High School, Leopard knew writing would be a big part of his life. His stories about Athens and Limestone County basketball and baseball appeared in the Athens newspapers.
From there his career began officially when he was hired in 1955 on the copy desk staff at the Birmingham Post-Herald. Little more than a year later he was offered the position of sports writer where he covered high school and college teams including Birmingham-Southern College and Samford University, known as Howard College at that time.
His career took him on a stepping stone tour of newspapers and publications, including the Limestone Democrat and Alabama Courier. The Alabama Press Association bestowed several top journalism awards on him for his stories.
As the editor of The Record, an employee publication with 2,000 employees on Redstone Arsenal and worked at Brown Engineering Corp. as the manager of corporate communications, responsible for news and feature stories.
His move to this area was predicated on
He followed that with a stint at Noble-Dury Public Relations firm in Nashville, Tenn. as president and in 1973 founded the Williamson Leader, a newspaper in Williamson County. At the helm until 1998, the newspaper served Franklin and Williamson County. Again he was recognized for his journalistic prowess, with many awards from the state press association, including one for his column "Leopard Spots." He also received the Tennessee Education Association award for three years for a series entitled "Teacher of the Week."
Leopard is married to Lavelle McCain Leopard and they have three children, Louise L. Wachsman, Rebecca “Becky” Leopard and Bailey Leopard Jr.
Posted on: 11/9/2011