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Volume 17, Issue 8
August 2019


John Leeper, 1925-2019
by Bruce Bartlett

John Leeper

On July 24 our beloved community member, veteran, activist and leader, John Leeper, passed away peacefully in his sleep. Leeper chaired Citizen Participation Organization (CPO) 1, representing Cedar Mill and Cedar Hills, from 1998-2000, and went on to serve on the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) from 2000-2006. When he was appointed to the BCC, I was serving as vice chair of CPO 1 so became Chair.

I attended his memorial service and was privileged to witness the tributes offered by his family and colleagues. An oft-repeated compliment for John was that he was a “gentleman.” Having served in the Army from 1943 until he retired in 1975, participating in three wars, he was capable of meeting the tremendous demands of warfare and life in the Army but throughout remained firmly connected to his humanity. As a community leader, he eschewed deference to his military service, declaring himself “plain old John.”

During his time as Chair of CPO 1, he focused on three major projects affecting the area: Tri-Met’s Westside Light Rail project; the extension of Cedar Hills Blvd from NW Barnes Road to NW Cornell Road; and, notably, in the project that shaped the Cedar Mill Town Center as we now know it today. He worked collaboratively on these projects because he recognized that compromise was an essential component of good solutions. When considering the impacts of major projects, he accounted for the good of the community over the effect on any one individual or small group, an essential aspect of good leadership. A well run, citizen-oriented county government was extremely important to him.

Bruce gets a laugh from John and his wife Ada during John's retirement party at the county building
Bruce gets a laugh from John and his wife Ermalou during John's retirement party at the county building

He was known for his colorful (occasionally salty) bon mots. One that stands out to me is, “I do not have a dog in that fight.” This would be an opening proclamation when he was about to make a contentious statement to let the audience know he had no personal stake in the outcome but had strong opinions on the subject. He was thorough in his preparation to lead discussions on issues. Another of his sayings, “Let’s get off the Dilemma Wheel,” speaks to his keen desire for constructive action. As for his emphatic “Great Balls of Iron,” I will let the reader grapple with its meaning.

He insisted that county communications be provided in layman’s language, not jargon, to allow community members to more easily understand the issues at hand. He was willing to listen and let anyone have their say, but was unwilling to suffer fools for long, and was very adept at helping a long-winded speaker conclude their remarks.

Descriptions of his life and many accomplishments can be found in an article I wrote about him in 2012, and in his online obituary.

In one’s life, the teachers and mentors who enter it with positive impact are precious. It was my honor to be mentored in “gentlemanly” civic leadership by John Leeper.


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Published monthly by Cedar Mill News LLC
Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
PO Box 91061
Portland, Oregon 97291
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