Longtime valley resident, Dr. Andrew Leonie passed away on January 5, 2019, in New Braunfels following emergency surgery during a Christmas visit with his son, retired Judge Andrew D. Leonie III, who formerly practiced law in McAllen and Weslaco. Dr. Leonie was a well-known educator who founded Valley Grande Institute in Weslaco, where he resided. He had battled throat cancer for the past seven months receiving treatment through M.D. Anderson Medical Center in Houston and Texas Oncology in McAllen.
Dr. Leonie was 96 and was pre-deceased by his wife, Norma Lou Leonie, in 2003. He leaves behind his son, Andrew with wife Kenna, and three grandchildren; Rachel Lorraine Leonie, 18, Aaron Drake Leonie, 21, and Andrew M.D. Leonie IV, 31, with wife Lexi Leonie, along with one great-grandchild, Cora Leonie, 2.
Dr. Leonie was a man of many accomplishments. Not only was he an educator, professor, and University Dean, he was also an accomplished pianist and composer, architectural designer and builder, painter and artist, photographer, educational and theological historian and writer, research physiologist, psychological counselor, missionary and minister. He was also a bricklayer and carpenter by trade. He always had inventive and creative ideas and seemed to know better ways to do almost anything - which, as acknowledged by his close friends and family as his only fault, he never hesitated in letting you know.
Dr. Leonie was born in South Africa, in 1922, the first of four sons, to Andrew Peter John and Spencina Drake Leonie. His brothers Timothy and wife Theda, and Malcolm and wife Gladys and their families survive him, still living in South Africa. His brother Leonard predeceased him but is survived by his sister-in-law Mary Kennedy and their family, residing in Corpus Christi. He is survived by five nieces and nephews; Ancel Leonie, Craig Leonie, Lynette Leonie Margo, Steven Leonie, and John Leonie together with their families of eight grand-nieces and grand-nephews.
Dr. Leonie grew up in the little town of Krugersdorp, just outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, where his father worked as a gold mining safety engineer. He graduated from Krugersdorp High School as part of Lancaster House with high honors and as Senior Prefect. From age 15, he was the church organist for the local Seventh-day Adventist Church. He then attended the University of Pretoria in South Africa to study pre-med and Trinity College, London, to study piano. He then taught biology at Helderberg College near Cape Town, South Africa, and there met, Norma Leonie, who had come from the U.S. to teach math, home economics and music. After their marriage, he emigrated to the U.S. to study further, gaining degrees from Columbia Union College, in biology, chemistry, and theology, from the University of Oregon in research physiology and his doctorate in Educational Psychology from the University of Montana.
Along the way, he was principal at Milo Adventist Academy in Oregon, at Mt. Ellis Academy in Montana, and also taught at Walla Walla University in Washington, Bethel College and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, Southwestern Adventist University in Texas, and at Western Illinois University where he was Dean of the College of Education. He had many honors in Academia, co-authoring books, publishing and presenting academic papers or serving as educational advisor and consultant to the White House and to Congress, and as an Adjunct Professor at Universities such as the University of Chicago, Moscow University, University of Sydney, University of Ghana, Oxford University and Andrews University.
Dr. Leonie was very proud of the fact that he 'chose to be an American'. He often wrote and gave speeches where he described the unique and exceptional aspect that America was the only country in the world founded on specific ideals and principles, and was open and inviting to anyone to come and embrace them and seek their own opportunities, as he had done. He loved that America stood for freedom, for truth, for equality of opportunity and for equal justice under law. Dr. Leonie was a proud American patriot.
After retiring in 1977, Dr. Leonie, and his wife Norma moved back to the Valley and engaged in several business enterprises - some successful and some not so much. He also served as minister to Adventist churches in Jefferson, Marshall, and Corpus Christi as well as principal of Valley Grande Adventist Academy in Weslaco. While there, some 25 years ago, he founded Valley Grande Institute as a non-profit post-secondary school for health sciences and technology, which continues today, educating and graduating vocational nurses, medical assistants, patient care technicians, and medical radiology and phlebotomy technicians. Dr. Leonie also continued scholarly research and study of theology, writing and contributing to several publications.
He is remembered as having touched so many lives around the world, sharing his wisdom, faith, and love. Among his many accolades and awards, the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International and the Weslaco Rotary Club, of which Dr. Leonie was a member, honored him by naming him a Paul Harris Fellow in 2008, for his contribution to the furtherance of better understanding among the peoples of the world.
His friends and family agree that Dr. Andrew Leonie could not have been a better man. His love and generosity and goodness were open to all to share. He lived a life of faith and joy. He loved God, and he loved all people, and especially his family - actual or chosen. He devoted his life to the betterment of and giving opportunities to, everyone with whom he came in contact. He was an eternal optimist and an encourager. Some believe that God walked with him and he with God so that we too may also come to know and experience that love, that is God. He will be missed always.
The funeral for Dr. Andrew Leonie will be held on Friday, January 11, 2019, 11:00 am at McCaleb Funeral Home in Weslaco with the Rev. Robert McAllen and the Rev. Tom Murray of Grace Episcopal Church in Weslaco officiating with interment to follow at Highland Memorial Park in Weslaco. Visitation will be on Thursday, January 10, 2019, from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm at the McCaleb Funeral Home.
Dr. Leonie was a great friend of mine at the Weslaco Rotary Club. He was truly an amazing man and few knew including myself of all he did in his life. My prayers are with his family and friends, but we all know that God needed another saint in heaven.
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