Saturday, February 10, 2018


First I’d like to welcome everyone and thank those who came from so far to be here, to celebrate the life of James R. Leverett, Jr. It is a testament to his life that so many of you would come this far to be here.

The memory of my father that I will cherish the most is of him, or really us, hiking the Appalachian Trail. He had started in Georgia, and my mom and I met him in the Blue Ridge in Virginia, where my dad and I hiked, and mom met us at the places that the trail came out on the roads. This allowed us to carry a little less food, since she would feed us, and so I became acutely aware of how he had shaved fractions of pounds off of his load, little by little, even paring his cameras down to to two or three.

The Blue Ridge was foggy – thick as pea soup, he called it, but I remember how happy he was. I remember well his teaching of how to leave the woods as minimally affected as possible: no garbage, no cut trees, don’t spit your toothpaste into the brook, that kind of thing. He was in good shape, and had given up chemical engineering, which he was good at, but which caused him nothing but headaches. Since men are often defined by their career, I can tell you that he knew his chemical engineering, but his feelings about taking care of the earth were often at odds with the people and companies he worked for. For a while he ran Tifft Nature Preserve, which attempted to bring back the lowlands befowled by the Lackawanna Steel Mills in Buffalo, he was trying, I think, to address some of the problems caused by companies like the ones he worked for.Throughout our life as a family, we would often go hiking or camping, sometimes to places in Pennsylvania like Kelly Pines, or places in West Virginia or New York State. Of the 46 Adirondack Peaks that he climbed, we went with him on several. He was lucky that my mom as far as we could tell was ok with it. She would do the cooking and wash the mud off our clothes when we got home. I hear their voices even now when I teach people who don’t have a clue, how to roast marshmallows and make smores. When we go skating I think of the winter we talked him into freezing a rink into our back yard in Buffalo, only to have it flood the basement in the spring when everything melted. The basement was mostly his photography supplies, which in those days was various chemicals and the curtains he used to make his darkroom. Another memory I have is how impressed we children were by a piece of photographic paper in a tray of chemicals, turning slowly but surely into a picture. From nothing to picture in just a couple minutes, it was a miracle.

One thing I’d like to point out is his unfailing generosity toward kids, of whom there were many in his life. To him, kids weren’t naturally mean, or bad, they could only be made that way, so even that, when it happened, was essentially the parents’ fault. There were plenty of bad people in the world, and plenty of bad parents, but kids aren’t born bad, or bad by nature. So it happens that the natural world is a good place, where bears may attack you, but nobody’s really mean.

I never heard him say that he didn’t believe in God, but in general, he had a low regard for organized religion. Sometimes when people asked him his religion, he would say Druid, so that they’d leave him alone. But toward the end of his life, it’s fair to say he became interested in Taoism, which is not so much a religion as it is a philosophy of life. Really it’s a way of living, seeing the world as a path, much like that path through the Blue Ridge. Travel lightly, do minimum damage. Live in harmony with nature around you, and seek good relations with friends, family, and community. I think he did pretty well in that regard. Thank you again for coming.


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