Disabled Advocate Lived Courageously

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Andy Leaf visits Bluebird Park in 2010.
Andy Leaf visits Bluebird Park in 2010.

John Andrew Leaf 

June 13, 1945 – Dec. 21, 2015

On Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, kidney failure ended the life of John Andrew “Andy” Leaf. He is finally at peace. He died at home in South Laguna, surrounded by love, family and friends. Leaf was 71, one of the longest surviving victims of spinal cord injury in the United States. Possessing the true warrior spirit, Leaf lived a remarkable life against all odds, and was an inspiration to all who knew him.

Andy was born June 13, 1945, in San Marino, and lived for 52 more years after breaking his neck by diving into a sand bar in Redondo Beach in March 1963. He moved to Laguna Beach after completing his rehabilitation. He was voted “Our Hero” by his classmates from the San Marino High School class of 1963.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from UC Irvine and a master’s degree with honors from Pepperdine University. He founded the SEED Business Network in 1993, a non-profit organization that assisted other disabled people in returning to the workplace. He was awarded a Presidential Citation in 2001 and most recently a commendation from the Laguna Beach City Council in October in conjunction with National Disability Employment Month.

Leaf is survived by his brother and sister Bob and Yolanda Leaf, and numerous nephews and nieces.

In lieu of flowers, donations to the SEED Business Network will help continue Andy’s work with disabled entrepreneurs. Donate by going to the web page http://www.disabilitybiz.org/pages/support-us.
Tentative plans are to hold a public memorial Jan. 16.

Remembering Andy Leaf

By Jim Rue, Special to the Independent

Just because I cannot walk, does not mean that I cannot speak, think or even run a business.  My being in a chair has not lessened my desire to be a productive member of my community and do what I can do.” … Andy Leaf in 2001

The grit with which Andy Leaf managed his health care decisions, household affairs and business served as a shining example to others facing major changes brought on by health crises. His good spirits and offbeat humor would not be disrupted by his changing circumstances or continuing health problems. He would not allow it.

Andy Leaf did much more than survive. He was giving, and his efforts and perspectives were needed. As he was an entrepreneur by nature and background, he became an advocate for self-employment for the disabled. Even today, only 20 percent of Americans with disabilities are working while nearly a third live in poverty. At the same time, nearly half of Americans with disabilities are actively preparing for employment or looking for jobs.

As early as 1995, Leaf founded the nonprofit SEED Business Institute and over the next eight years provided advisory support to 120 small businesses started by people with disabilities. About half remained in business after one year. Thousands of disabled people were helped.

Leaf earned an undergraduate degree in social ecology and a master’s in counseling. He was one of the first California drivers licensed to drive with adaptive equipment. He also toured Europe, an experience his caregiver for the trip never forgot.
Leaf led by example quite beyond his professional experience. On Sept. 11, 2001, he visited Washington DC to receive an award from President Bush. When attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon occurred, he was left in a surreal landscape, alone on the Capitol Mall with his caregiver. Eventually, he received his presidential citation by mail.

In November, he was recognized by the Laguna Beach City Council as part of National Disabled Employment Month. His visit to council chambers to receive the award was observed by a standing ovation.
In mid-December, Leaf was seriously ill. He was hospitalized twice and finally discharged to home hospice care. He asked that a “Do Not Resuscitate” order be inserted into his medical record. He was a survivor of at least four earlier cardiac arrests. He was not about to go gentle into the night. But the word was circulated to some of his 70 past caregivers, now scattered all over the planet, that his race might be nearly run.

His resolve was to be a friend to mankind and his dealings with caregivers, colleagues and friends very intimately reflected that. News of his latest maladies brought visits and phone calls from friends and past caregivers from all over the world.
Andy Leaf was a doggedly optimistic man, adventurous and playful, intelligent and kind. He was respected, loved and admired by all who knew him. Those who became a presence in his life were altered for the better by his presence in theirs.

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  1. Andy’s legacy will live on longer than his life on earth through the success of all those who benefited from his generosity. RIP my dear friend.

  2. Whether there are SCI survivors living over 50 years…I am sure it is not common. This is about Andy and his lifes journey which was simply remarkable and inspirational.


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