Wayne M. Leatherman, the first judge of Perrysburg Municipal Court who had a local law practice for nearly 60 years and who advised the school system, the library, and his church, died Friday at Waterford at Levis Commons, Perrysburg, where he lived since September. He was 91.
“He helped move Perrysburg forward in many ways, and he helped the people of Perrysburg solve problems and move forward,” said Richard Baranowski, local history librarian at Way Public Library.
Mr. Leatherman was in ill health recently, said his daughter, Kay, a lawyer in practice since 1992 at the firm her father found-ed in 1950, Leatherman & Witzler.
His late-career focus became estates, real estate, and income-tax law, his daughter said. He retired in 2009. As a newly minted Ohio State University law graduate, though, he opened a general practice of law, prepared to take any kind of case.
“I probably learned more law on my lunch hour with him than in law school,” his daughter said.
In the late 1950s, a state law abolished several Wood County mayor’s courts and created a Perrysburg Municipal Court with jurisdiction over five townships and four villages. Mr. Leatherman was asked to run for the new judgeship, his daughter said. He bested his opponent by a wide margin and took the bench Jan. 1, 1960.
“He was good at it. The police officers and attorneys who came into court respected him,” his daughter said.
In 1973, the first year of his third six-year term, he resigned, citing the increased docket of what was a part-time position and the demands of his own law practice.
Mr. Leatherman was a member of the Perrysburg Board of Education in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When Joe Bailey, superintendent from 1979 to 1991, wanted to create a way for people to make tax-deductible donations to the district, he called on Mr. Leatherman. The result was the Perrysburg Schools Foundation. Similarly, Mr. Leatherman helped organize Way Library’s foundation.
“He felt he owed humanity some service, and he provided it,” said Earl Witzler, his law partner. “He could remember the names of people and family relationships, and not because it was a business thing. Because he liked people. He had a strong intellect and absolute integrity.”
His daughter Sue said: “He had incredible common sense and wisdom and he could quickly see through a problem and figure out a resolution. He was very good at mediating and working out agreements that all parties could accept.
A skilled raconteur, Mr. Leatherman was interviewed by Mr. Baranowski about his World War II experiences for the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project and for Way’s local history series.
“He had a million stories,” Mr. Baranowski said. “I’m privileged to have known the man and to have listened to him.”
He was born Nov. 14, 1921, to Hazel and Harry Leatherman and grew up on a farm near the Fulton-Henry county line, his daughter Kay said. He was 16 when he graduated from Liberty Center High School and went to Bowling Green State University. To pay for his and his brother Cloyce’s education, their parents borrowed money and raised chickens and sold eggs, daughter Sue said. The boys returned to the farm most weekends and worked.
Mr. Leatherman enlisted in the Army and served in the Air Corps, first at the Wright-Patterson base near Dayton. He’d been a business education major, and his overseas wartime duties included finance and payroll in India.
He returned to BGSU, his education paid for by the GI Bill. A professor encouraged him to study law, and he received a law degree in 1950 from Ohio State.
Mr. Leatherman was a longtime member of Grace United Methodist Church. In the 1960s, the pastor there enlisted him as a delegate to a conference that created the United Methodist Church through the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church.
“He was very devoted to God and his church,” daughter Sue said. “He was a very successful businessman and very firmly believed that the reason to make money was so you could give away money, and he lived up to that.”
Gardening was a favorite activity, and passers-by often stopped to admire his flowers, daughter Kay said.
He married the former Melba Jeane Gallagher on Aug. 6, 1948. She died June 1, 2010.
Surviving are his daughters, Dr. Sue Leatherman and Kay Leatherman Howard, and three grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 2-8 p.m. Friday in the Witzler-Shank Funeral Home, Perrysburg. Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in Grace United Methodist Church, where the body will be after 10 a.m.
The family suggests tributes to Perrysburg Christians United; the Perrysburg Schools Foundation, or Grace United Methodist.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: email@example.com or 419-724-6182
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