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What is your favorite memory of Leonard Ellis?

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Comment by Phil Lampman on November 15, 2013 at 5:13pm

Lenny’s gone? Tell me it isn’t so… Naw, can’t be…


Lenny Ellis will never be gone.  He is too much a unique person and a special friend to be just, “gone”. Naw, he’s not gone; he’s given us so many memories and stories to be “gone”. There are too many signs of Lenny’s presence around the museum to ever think he’s gone.

Some may have considered Lenny as eccentric, even peculiar; I considered him an artist. Granted, some of his “art” might be a “U-37” tattoo on his arm – or was it his leg? Can’t remember for sure, but it was art as Lenny knew it and because I had grown to appreciate the man, so did I. Relucantly at first, but… It’s a memory of the man I will never turn loose. Another man’s art, or whatever that expression is..

Some may have looked upon Lenny’s “art cars”, his van and, later his Parade Float-sized Lincoln Town Car. Festooned with scale model hydroplanes and large “roostertails” all over the roof, flanks and front of his car as, well, kinda’ weird. I found it beautiful and an ideal expression of someone who loved the sport as Lenny did.  Lenny seemed to tread that fine line between the sport and to how they appeared through his art.

Lenny’s other artwork, mostly paintings of Hydros, might appear to some as child-like art. I think of  it as among the finest examples – okay, maybe the only - of impressionism ever done on the sport he loved so much.  I think followers of motorsports often in some way can’t accept that anything but the most perfect digital photographs as the proper “canvas” .  Not Lenny. His works reflect both the innocent era in which many of us grew up with the Thunderboats, yet offer an almost surreal look at what we no longer have. Sadly, like those icons we celebrate, we no longer have Lenny. We still have his artworks.

Belying his modesty and, sadly, his poor health, there seemed no greater excitement for him to have me take him to the shop in the back of the museum and show him whatever we were doing on one restoration or another. I think these were the times I most enjoyed Lenny’s presence. Restoring an old racing boat is not just a weekend project. Lenny, more than almost anyone seemed to understand that we weren’t building a museum piece so much as bringing back to life one of his childhood touchstones.   On more than one occasion, I gave Lenny a piece of the original boat or a part of one we were replicating. Either way, Lenny seemed to look at me as though I’d just given him a relic of the True Cross;. I once gave him the recently completed shaft log for Miss Wahoo and told him to stand away so I could take his photo as he held it in his arms.  It was one of those occasions that reminded me that I had to buy a wide-angle lens if I wanted to capture that huge smile of his.

Lenny’s greatest attribute though may have been his remarkable generosity. I was given an old hydroplane team jacket once and took it down to the museum to show it around. I knew it would be one of those days when Lenny, Ian and Parke “Held Court” at the cookie table just inside the museum entrance. Ian spotted it and immediately asked if he could have it.  Ian is a pretty discerning collector and a darn good docent.  After a few minutes of negotiation Ian even offered to give me money for it. I told him no. Frankly I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it myself.

I took it with me back to the shop and a few minutes later, Lenny came back and asked me if I would sell it. I told him I wasn’t sure, but asked why he wanted it. After all, even at a size L it was too small to fit him. Besides, he had so many jackets, shirts and other hydro memorabilia already. Lenny looked me in the eye and said, “I want to buy it to give to Ian”.

I eventually gave it to Ian myself, rather than take Lenny’s money. I’ll never forget the gesture though. It was so, well, Lenny at his best.

Leonard Ellis will always be a special person in my heart and memories. I occasionally wonder how many understood him as much as I would like to think I do?

For those who never met the man,  they missed a meeting a kind soul, an artist, a good father, a wonderful historian and one of my favorite friends.

I doubt if anyone like Lenny will ever come our way again. What better reason to hold on to him in our hearts and our memories.  The true loss in all of this is not so much Lenny, but to those who never had the opportunity to meet him and realize what they probably have missed.

God Speed my friend. And may God hold you in his palm around the 3-mile course. (and keep the Air conditioner working on you way to the next race)

Thank you for sharing the memories

I miss you greatly… We all do




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