Leslie Bohm passed away on August 20. On Sunday I had the privilege to share a few memories at his services.
I want to thank Lynn, Griffin, and Cooper for the honor of being here.
Trek’s first customer was Elmer Sorenson the owner of Penn Cycle in Minneapolis. Elmer opened his bicycle store while he was a master mechanic for Northwest airlines. Elmer lived a long and happy life and as I walked out of his funeral service a decade ago, a Northwest 747 flew low over the church. I knew that was a sign from Elmer.
Leslie loved politics, debates, and elections. When I talked to Lynn on the phone the other day and she told me to watch out for the traffic in Boulder on Sunday because the President of the United States would be speaking in Boulder. I just smiled to my self because I knew that was Leslie at work. The headline...President Obama Speaks in Boulder
Over the years, Leslie and I became good friends. On the surface, we did not have a lot in common. Leslie was short, I'm tall. Leslie was quiet, I can be loud, Leslie always took his time, I can pull the trigger. However, we did have a lot of similarities, we both loved v-neck sweaters, we both loved the bicycle business, we both loved to ride our bikes and swap stories of our favorite climbs in Europe, we both thought the bicycle was a simple solution to the major issues of the day like climate change, health issues, and congestion; and we were both total overachievers with our wives. The first time I met Lynn we were having drinks the four of us. Tania and I, Lynn and Leslie. At one point I said to Leslie, “we really did well picking our life partners” and Leslie gave me that big Leslie smile and said “John we sure did. We have to be the two luckiest guys in the world.” The last thing that we had in common were ideas. Leslie loved ideas.
Leslie was all about ideas and the lessons of life. Leslie lived an extraordinary life, and every day to Leslie was another opportunity to learn. Today in Leslie’s honor I want to review four of the lessons of life that he leaves behind:
1. Lesson number one is Unbridled Optimism. Leslie was optimistic about everything. Shortly after I learned of his cancer, I did some research and the research told me that Leslie was going to have a tough battle. I called Leslie to see how he was doing the next day. Leslie, this is John… I heard about your cancer, how are you doing? “John thanks for the call. I'm doing GREAT. The smile coming right through the phone. “You see I have an awesome family and they have been giving me such great support, and you know I have excellent doctors and they have put me in a special program because I am really fit and have a great attitude, I am going to beat this thing” In March at the National Bike Summit Tania and I had drinks with Lynn and Leslie and I asked him how are you doing? Leslie's reply “Great, I rode my bike 50 miles on Sunday with my family. We had a great time. ” But Leslie how is the cancer? “Well they just don’t know what to do, whether I should have surgery or stick with the chemo.” And then with his BIG Leslie smile he looks at me and says “John I just wish they would crack my head open, and take this thing out, so I could get on with my life.” Business, politics, bicycle advocacy, cancer, Leslie had one outlook in life and that was to Be Positive.
2. The second lesson is Take Care of Others. One night early in his life, Leslie was with his sisters and other cousins. In a conversation, Leslie mentioned that he was feeling a little guilty because Aunt Sara seemed to favor him more than the others. To his surprise, each of the others said that they too felt guilty at having been Aunt Sara’s “favorite” They realized at that moment in unison , that Aunt Sara had managed to make each of them feel uniquely special. Leslie took Aunt Sara’s lesson and applied it to his personal life and his business life. Leslie not only succeeded at making other people feel special, he genuinely cared about others and went out of his way to take care of others. If Leslie ever invited someone to go on a bike ride with him, he really meant that he would ride "with" that person. Even though Leslie was a strong rider in his own right, he was never one to push someone to ride beyond their own ability. Instead Leslie, would match their pace, and make sure that everyone had a good time. Once, on a winter hut trip in Colorado, Leslie was with a group that included a woman who was not as prepared for the back-country as she should have been. Leslie hung back to encourage the woman and assist her on the trail. Then the two of them became separated from the rest of the group as a storm moved in. Leslie dug a snow cave and kept the two of them sheltered and safe until the storm blew over and he could get the woman to safety. He literally saved her life that day because of his concern, and because of the fact that Leslie always put other people first in every aspect of his life.
3. The third lesson of Leslie's life is to be Open to Ideas. There is a great passage from Eleanor Roosevelt’s favorite poem that goes like this: “Small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, great minds discuss ideas.” Leslie loved ideas. At a Bikes Belong Board meeting Leslie was making the point that we needed to get better organized. “This really isn’t that difficult. All we need to do is take a look at the NRA. Leslie goes into a five minute monologue about the NRA and how they do it. They have great messaging, incredible marketing, and they have 4.2 million dedicated members, and they are advocating for guns. We are advocating for bicycles. Our cause is so much better and yet they are kicking our butts. We can learn from these guys?” From across the table I ask Leslie... "Leslie how do you know so much about the NRA. Well I did some research and I was so impressed with their work that I wanted to learn more, so I signed up and became a member of the NRA so that they would send me all the material. It’s really GREAT stuff." “Leslie are you really a Member of the NRA?” With that Big Leslie smile, “I sure am!” Leslie was very passionate about his positions in life, but he was always smart enough and humble enough and decent enough to look at all sides of any issue, including the NRA.
4. The fourth lesson of Leslie's life is Find Something that You are Passionate about and Make a Difference. In 1997 I met Leslie for the first time at the National Bike Summit. We had been summoned by Congressman Jim Oberstar to get involved at the national level in making sure that bicycles were part of the national transportation budget. At that time cycling received less than $20 million in federal funding. Leslie was part of the industry group that got together and helped to make bicycles part of the Transportation Bill in 1997. We worked hard and won the battle, bicycle funding went from $20 million to over $200 million. We sat in the basement of a lousy Washington hotel feeling pretty good about ourselves. There were four of us and Leslie turned the celebration into a question. Where do we go from here? A debate took place and a decision was made to create Bikes Belong, an industry organization that had the mission of more people on bikes more often. Not only was Leslie a founding member of Bikes Belong, he actively (and I underline actively), served as a board member for the last 15 years. In that time federal funding for cycling increased to over $1.3 billion and more and more places across America are starting to look like Boulder, Colorado because Leslie was passionate about cycling and wanted to make a difference.
Unbridled optimism, taking care of others, being open to ideas, and finding something that you are passionate about and make a difference are four of the characteristics that made Leslie the Legend that he was. On top of those four there really is one other. Leslie was just a good person to the core.
While Leslie’s life was cut short at 59 years, history will show that Leslie packed 100 years into his 59. A few years back my father was in poor health and with his death imminent a friend told me something that will stay with me the rest of my life. She said, “John, his body will die, but his spirit will live on.” The same holds true for Leslie. While he his body died on August 20, 2012, Leslie’s spirit will live on and that spirit will be a guiding force for his wife, his two sons, the bicycle movement and the many others who had the privilege of knowing Leslie Bohm.