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Observations and Punditry

Woody's Ramblings
Tuesday, July 18, 2006

By Woody Peele

A man worth remembering

Other Stories on Keith LeClair's Passing
Al Myatt: LeClair leaves sweeping legacy

Brian Bailey: Coach's impact will endure
Woody Peele: A man worth remembering


Over the years that I covered East Carolina University, I got to know a couple of “giants” who left behind them a legacy unmatched by anyone else I have known. They are Dr. Leo Jenkins and W.M. “Booger” Scales.

With Dr. Jenkins leading the way, East Carolina grew from a small teaching college to the strong university it is today, complete with an outstanding medical school and an athletic program, the likes of which no one had previously dared dream.

Booger Scales was a tireless worker as a “pitch man” for the school and was instrumental in many, many other fine endeavors for the betterment of not only ECU but also Greenville and Pitt County. Behind his pushes, many projects across the area were funded and built.

Both are gone now, but the memory of their efforts will long be remembered.

Now, another has joined them in leaving a lasting impression on East Carolina and the area. Keith LeClair, one of the finest men I’ve ever known, passed away on Monday, ending a long, long battle with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

LeClair came to Greenville 10 years ago to replace Gary Overton as head baseball coach at ECU. His goal, he announced at his first appearance on campus, was to guide the program to Omaha and the College World Series.

In his brief tenure as head coach, LeClair came close. After his first year, his teams reached the regionals in each of the following years, and advanced to one super regional. In each, the Pirates came close, but were denied.

Coming up just a bit short of the coveted CWS berth didn’t dull the response of the fans, and it didn’t stop LeClair from believing that it could be done. I believe it was quite likely that, had his health held up, the goal would have been accomplished.

Early on, I’d been warned by an anonymous caller that LeClair was a “hot-head” who would embarrass ECU. It must have been someone who really didn’t know the real Keith LeClair.

Always a gentleman, LeClair was soft spoken in interviews and in normal conversation. Oh, he could yell where there was reason, but he preferred to use normal tones most of the time.

Even when things went wrong on the field, LeClair usually came up with some positives when he spoke to the media following a game.

Then came the rumors. LeClair might be suffering from ALS. It began as a tingling in his arm. Then, it was revealed that a number of members of the extended LeClair family had had the disease, too.

In our first interview about the situation, LeClair sat in his office and admitted that it was a possibility, but he was still in the denial phase. The doctors, he said, weren’t sure that ALS was the problem; it could be something else.

But as time moved on, it became a certainty that ALS was the culprit, and it began to steal away LeClair’s voice and movement. He gave up the field duties for the 2002 season to assistant coach Kevin McMullen. As his voice became more slurred, Keith used notes passed to Kevin or to a player to convey his immense baseball knowledge.

The last time Keith spoke around me was in the hall of Scales Fieldhouse following a game that season. His ability to form words was so far gone that I understood little of what he said.

It broke my heart to see such a fine young man, whose mind remained sharp as a tack, reduced to this.

It didn’t take long for the disease to work its destruction. More and more of his body became immobile. Soon, the only way he could communicate was through a computer that read his eye movements.

With the quick progress of the disease, many people believed that Keith would be gone from us in a matter on months.

They hadn’t recognized his courage and his faith, however.

Keith always believed that God would carry him through for as long as he was needed on this earth, or would provide a cure for the disease. While no cure as been found, there is no question that God’s purposes for Keith LeClair’s life have been achieved.

Godspeed, my friend. You are a man among men.

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02/23/2007 02:44:27 PM

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