'Incredibly proud': Former Romford MP Dick Leonard passes away at 90
- Credit: Gabrielle Calver
A Labour activist, journalist, historian and former MP for Romford has passed away aged 90.
Born on December 12 in 1930, Dick Leonard died on June 24, 2021 at his home in Albert Street, Camden.
Dick, whose birth name was Richard, leaves behind his 76-year-old wife Irène Heidelberger-Leonard, who he met at a summer school in Oxford and married in 1963.
He also leaves behind their two children, Miriam Leonard, 44, and Mark Leonard, 46, as well as three grandchildren – Mark’s son Jakob, 12, and daughter Noa, nine; and Miriam’s son, Isaac, five.
Mark said: “Throughout their 60 years together, they (Dick and Irène) had an almost symbiotic partnership, whilst both lived very diverse and autonomous lives."
He recalled Dick played Scrabble with their neighbour, Tate-exhibited artist Frank Auerbach each week and his parents would hold annual summer parties at their home in Albert Street.
Mark, who would talk to his dad about every election, said: “You’d get this amazing coming together of different worlds. Politicians, senior journalists, artists and writers.
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“He was also a keen chess player as a kid and taught my son to play. We’d often play together on a Sunday."
Mark said Dick began supporting the Labour Party and was “proud” to collect voting returns for the party on his bicycle in the 1945 general election.
Recalling the “many lives” his dad lived, Mark said he was the youngest candidate in the 1955 general election.
He said: “Dad’s parliamentary accomplishments included becoming an early campaigner on housing issues which he could see were central to the idea of equalising people’s life chances."
Mark enthuses that his dad was “incredibly proud” to be an MP for Romford from 1970 to 1974, and it was a role that meant “a lot” to him.
Michael Neubert took the Romford seat in 1974, but Mark said his dad “never gave up his political convictions”.
From 1974 to 1985 Dick “reinvented” himself as a journalist and worked as assistant editor of The Economist in Brussels.
His wife Irène added: “Brussels was a climax for the whole family and Dick flourished as a journalist with The Economist."
During this time, Mark and Miriam were at a European School in Brussels and Irène worked in the German department of the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
She said: “In truth, I was only able to blossom because Dick made it possible.
“The Economist wanted Dick back in London, but Dick decided - unilaterally - to leave The Economist so that we could stay in Brussels and I could accept the position."
Becoming a freelance journalist, Irène said they made a “pact” to return to London when she retired.
Mark remembers his father telling him a story about driving Zambian politician Kenneth Kaunda back to London from Oxford and “the two of them having to push his decrepit Morris Minor car when it broke down”.
Dick also travelled around America in John F Kennedy’s presidential jet as part of the White House press corps for the first televised election.
Later, in 2009 and back in Camden Town, Dick became a historian.
Mark said: “His ideals were coupled with an extraordinary tolerance and kindness to others which won him friends and admirers from lots of different persuasions and walks of life.
“This combination of traits led to an extraordinary loyalty to other people, which in turn attracted it from others."
He added: “Dad was very principled, decent, kind and optimistic. He was brilliant at lots of things and most importantly he was a wonderful human being."
Romford's current MP Andrew Rosindell said: "While I never knew Dick during his time in Parliament, I was very proud to meet him later in my life.
“His passing has really made me reflect on the true honour it is to be an MP, coming just weeks after the 20th anniversary of my election.
“He was a man of huge intelligence and integrity and I pay tribute to him for the enormous contribution he made during his life in so many areas."
Dick will be buried in Highgate Cemetery.