Leah with Hal Miller                                                Leah with David Willms
 
Leah Aylward, born November10, 1980, died by suicide December 30, 2020.  In the 2000’s Hal Miller connected with Leah – she was already a brilliant, accomplished young lady.  Working with Hal and me she became a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar spending a year in Costa Rica at EARTH University.  She came back to District 5440 and as part of her Ambassadorial Scholarship responsibilities visited all, or nearly all clubs in the District to share her experiences. 
She graduated from Harvard, Magna Cum Laude.  She contacted Hal and me about applying to be a Rotary World Peace Fellow.  We assisted her with her application, and she became the youngest World Peace Fellow, going to Queensland, Australia where she earned her Master’s degree and completed her PhD, all but the dissertation.
During this time, she spoke to our club and at District Conferences about her Fellowship experiences.  She is a Paul Harris Fellow and a wonderful promoter of Rotary.
Fellow Rotarian and Club member, David Willms assisted Butch and me when Leah lived with us for nine months in 2019.  He stayed with her so we could get a break and go out to dinner.  David wrote of Leah and I quote and paraphrase his words:

“Devastated. Heartbroken. Shaken. Somber. Despondent. Hollow. No words properly express the pain I've felt since learning of Leah's passing last week. As I and others grieve the loss of a remarkable person and friend, I cannot help but reflect on nearly 30 years of friendship."

I first met Leah in 1993, just shy of her 13th birthday and was immediately intimidated but wanted to find my way into her orbit. She was brilliant, musical, athletic, compassionate, driven, and so much more. She also had an uncanny ability to use her gifts to bring out the best in others. As fellow saxophonists, we quickly developed a spirited rivalry--challenging each other for parts and chair-positioning with our jazz ensemble and concert band. The rivalry quickly morphed into a deep friendship. Some of my fondest memories from the mid-1990s involved creating music with her, and being constantly awed with her command of the musical language at such a young age.

The friendship spilled into other areas: long hours studying together (mainly her teaching me), science competitions (she was a national champion there too), and rousing games of capture the flag in vacant fields. Regardless of where life took us, an enduring bond was built.

 
Leah graduated from high school and left to conquer the world. She excelled at Harvard, then spent time overseas in Australia, Costa Rica, and 21 other countries. We were not particularly close during this time, but exchanged occasional emails and phone calls. I remained awed by her intellectual curiosity and passion to make a difference in the world.

Several years ago, she moved to northern Colorado, and we reconnected. By this time, she had endured, and was continuing to endure, incomprehensible physical and mental trauma. She had an army of friends that gladly stood by her side supporting her as she fought with the bravery and tenacity with which she approached everything in her life.  This picture was taken about a year ago when I thought her incredible spirit might pull her through it all. Ultimately the pain was too significant to overcome for one of the most remarkable people I've ever known.

"Leah, my heart is heavy today, but I take solace in knowing that each of us you came into contact with is better for it, and that the world is a better place because you were in it. I remain in awe and intimidated by all that you are and were.  I pray you are pain free, reunited with Erin (her identical twin sister), and that you are both smiling brightly from the heavens. I will carry your memory and message with me for the remainder of my days. Thank you for being my friend.”
Many of us today thank Leah for touching our lives.  A service in celebration of her life will be conducted by the Highland UU Church of Fort Collins on January 30, 2021 at 11 a.m. Mountain time. The Zoom connection is https://zoom.us/j/5684350726.  If you need phone connection information please contact Lucie.osborn66@gmail.com.