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Tom McEwen

The late Tom McEwen, sports editor of The Tampa Times from 1958-62 before being named sports editor of The Tampa Tribune in 1962, graced the Tribune sports section with his award-winning column, The Morning After, and his Breakfast Bonus notes columns were a signature offering from the 19-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year. McEwen died in June, 2011 at the age of 88. His wife, Linda, occasionally contributes past columns and exerpts to this blog.

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Sweet Leslie remembered

Posted May 25, 2012 by TBO.com

Updated May 27, 2012 at 12:48 AM

Being in charge of Tom’s writings, certain columns come to mind as being so special that they stand out among all of his good works. This one is like that. He captured the poignancy of a horrible disease taking the life of a wonderful young girl and the grief the family must have suffered. Tom could always express what most people were thinking but couldn’t write as eloquently as he did about this tragedy. - Linda  

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Sweet Leslie

January 18,1981

Lovely Leslie Walbolt, the vivacious daughter of educators, a runner an equestrian, died much too young, but I learned of her gallant fight for life, those who were with her all the way and felt compelled to write about it.
Readers in great numbers said she was an inspiration.

The running feet of sweet Leslie Walbolt are stilled now, the eyes that forever sparkled closed, her last smile a precious memory for her family
Sweet Leslie, brave Leslie, uncomplaining Leslie, died peacefully this week past in her own bed, holding the hands of her parents, leaving legacies of love, and courage, and confidence that she would live again.

Services were held for sweet Leslie Friday at St. Mary’s amidst thoughtful celebration of the gifts she gave while here, amidst a remarkable outpouring of respect and ro­mance for this selfless girl/child from her own legions of friends and those of her attentive parents, Dan and Sylvia Walbolt, and her young brother, Danny. Leslie Walbolt was only 13.

It was when she was 11, about this time in 1979, that the family and her doctor thought the bone cancer discovered in January of 1978 was in remission and that she, like her father, would beat the scourge.

It was then, when she was 11, in early February, 1979, that I wrote a column on the Walbolts, titled, the family that runs together, lives together.

Her dad, Dan, a former athlete, a lawyer, and then and now the University of South Florida vice president for student affairs, had completely whipped his malignancy, Hodgkin’s Disease. He was fit and trim, a distance major contributor to his victory, which remains complete. Oh, he’d been through the chemotherapy and all of the other pains of the struggle.

Came January, 1978, four years after her dad’s most important triumph, and Leslie was hit with the bone cancer. ” Hers was different. It was cancer but it was not lymphoma, not Hodgkin’s. Hers was different from mine and not traceable to me,” said her dad.

It came as Leslie had taken full-bore to horseback riding and to her studies. What a student she was then.  What a student she was to the last.

She took all of the treatments; lost her hair and was most identifiable in her school by the bandana she wore, by those dancing eyes and perpetual smile. Her parents had been told she’d not make it through the year of 1978.

So it was that the Walbolts in February, 1979, shared their story with me, and through me with some of you. She was loving life and school and rode horses, gently, and Berkeley was her school.

“Last June,” said her mother Sylvia, herself a practicing Tampa attorney, “she had finished the seventh grade and was reading for the eight. But she began to feel bad again and the checks began.

“It was back. Oh, we took her everywhere. She had every kind of test, painful tests, but it could not be isolated. They called for surgery.

“The cancer was in her liver and in her kidneys and bone marrow.-It was obvious now it was a matter of time.”

But as she could, she and the family went about their business and their activities. She was a devoted Tampa Bay Rowdie fan and often there. Her adopted Tampa Attor­ney Tom MacDonald, was a frequent companion and would be a confidante in the last days. He also would speak at the funeral services, along with Attorney Reece Smith and Judge Tom Clark.

I saw her at the Rowdie games in the late summer and she was bright and chipper and unafraid and optimistic.

Later, she would go to Rowdie games in a wheelchair, and it was there MacDonald gave her a soccer ball with Rowdie signatures, a gift she cherished, just as she would cherish the game jersey Florida wide receiver Cris Collinsworth wore in the Tangerine Bowl, sent her by him through MacDonald.

“Knowing what a Gator fan Tom was thrilled here. He was the last one Leslie spoke to. She went into a coma last Saturday and slept the rest of the time.

“It was best,” said her mother. “She had been in horrid pain. Toward the end, she could not move anything but her eyes, but they sparkled to the last.”

Father George Gentry would talk of the sparkle in her eyes at the last rites.

He was giving her a final communion and in for her to see a candle her brother had given her for Christmas and, “I reached over and I saw the candle reflect in her eyes and I saw something I have never seen before. Oh, may she rest in peace.”

Peace came, her mother said, “with us all in the room. For weeks her dad and I shared sleeping to keep her home, and we did.

“So when Leslie died, she died in her own bed and she died with all of her grandparents, with all of us in the room. Dan called us in. He sensed it.

“He had bold of one hand I hold of the other. She was so peaceful.

It was beautiful. What a brave girl she was. My daughter went with class. I’m proud of her.

“I don’t know if people can really believe this, but Leslie never once complained. Not of pain, not to the last.”

“I sensed,” said her dad, “at the end a remarkable confidence. She seemed to know she was going to some other place. And it is impossible for me to see the great spirit this young girl passed and not believe that there isn’t a reward for her somewhere.”

“The running? Sure,” said her mother. “I am convinced it prolonged her life. I know it made it happier, as it made our lives happier. Danny has become an accomplished runner. Dan is a marathoner now.”

With her classmates assemble, some in the choir, with her riding class there, Leslie lay in a closed coffin over which MacDonald said, “I was privileged to see an indescribable light of joy in the eyes of Leslie Walbolt.”

Judge Clark spoke of her “spiritual grace” as a person who, despite her youth, “had an ability to know God’s will.”
Attorney Smith, once acting president of USF, said Leslie Walbolt “taught us what courage really means. Though she didn’t live long, she gave us a gift of love and of example.”

“My daughter,” said her mother, “was a great little lady.”

Saints are for elevation by others, but if ever there was one saintly among us here, surely it was sweet Leslie Waslbolt.
 
“Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” - John 11:26

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