David P. Leys, Jr., 59, a life-long resident of Middletown, RI, passed away peacefully on Wednesday August 2, 2017, in his home surrounded by his family, after living courageously for five years as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, gradually destroyed his body but not his spirit.
He was an exceptional and devoted father to three children, Bowen, Ryan, and Annie.
A 1977 graduate of Middletown HS, he continued his education earning a Bachelor of Arts from New England College in Henniker, NH, in 1981. Before, during, and after he earned his degree, he worked with his father in the family business, Leys Century Store, the longest continuously family-run department store in the country. David had the honor of being a fourth-generation employee and he was a regular fixture all over the store, especially in the men’s department where he loved greeting customers, both long-standing regulars and tourists, to sell them anything from socks to bow ties to full dress suits.
After the family store closed, he had a variety of careers as co-owner of Aquidneck Island Sporting Goods, schoolteacher, and tennis coach before becoming a Realtor. He worked first with Nunes Realty and later at Gustave White Sotheby’s International Realty. David also enjoyed a secondary job ‘behind the desk’ at Newport Athletic Club for many years.
David was an active member of many local organizations. Most notable and close to his heart were the Boys and Girls Club of Newport County where he served on the Board of Directors and as President, and the Norman Bird Sanctuary where he also was a board member. He was instrumental in organizing the Bird Sanctuary’s annual 5k run, which for the last few years has been held in honor of David and to raise awareness about ALS.
A road race in David’s honor was fitting as he had a life-long passion for running. In high school, he ran for the track and field team and held the school record in the hurdles for many years. In his adult life, his commitment to running segued into an interest in triathlons and he became a regular competitor at triathlons throughout the Northeast, usually doing so in order to raise money for a charity or individual in need. He also was an annual swimmer in the local Save the Bay swim as evidenced by the dozen or so participation medals hanging from his bedroom beam. More importantly, he made many long-time friends through his training and racing.
Before he was afflicted with ALS, David was a hands-on dad known for welcoming any of the kids’ friends into his home and taking a whole group of kids known as the Wolcott Gang and others on an annual trip to Miskiania Camp. As the sole adult in charge of the kids, he fed them a steady diet of junk food and let them have free and joyful reign of the place.
The last few years of his life, David enjoyed spending time with his family, his many friends, his beautiful team of caregivers, the nurses and support staff from Visiting Nurse Services, his faithful dog Maisy, and especially his kids. As his health and mobility declined, he enjoyed watching Annie play tennis, basketball, and lacrosse for the Middletown Islanders. He looked forward to the many hours he spent with Bowen, Ryan, and Annie and managed to continue his role as their dad to the end, offering a thoughtful ear, fatherly advice, and role model, displaying for his kids dignity and grace as ALS robbed him of all control of his body.
David will always be remembered for his big smile and his positive outlook on life. He retained his sense of humor and his ability to crack a joke throughout his illness. He was always happy to welcome anyone into his room and managed to put visitors at ease with his self-deprecating humor and good-hearted attitude. Despite being on a ventilator for the last two years of his life, he never lost his smile or the capacity to appreciate or create a good one-liner. His gift in the end was his ability to laugh in the face of ALS and to find humor in his situation, to somehow be grateful for what he did have instead of dwelling on what he had lost, and to find joy where a lesser person perhaps would have found despair. For those who knew him, he will forever be respected for his strength of character and his will to live.
Along with his children, David is survived by his parents, David P. Leys, Sr. and Judith Cowey Leys of Middletown, his siblings: Ellen (Dave Raboy) of Newport, Kevin (Midge Rogers) of Allenhurst, NJ, Paul (Mardie Corcoran) of Newport, Beth of Steamboat Springs, Colorado and Middletown, Andrew (Susan Winkler) of Middletown, and Johnny (Middletown). He also leaves behind twelve nieces and nephews, many cousins, and a large group of loyal and caring friends, including his children’s mother Kathleen Breede, all of whom supported him throughout his long illness.
David was grateful and touched over and over again by the tremendous support he received from our Aquidneck Island community and beyond. The many fundraisers and the outpouring of emotional and financial support buoyed his spirits and helped carry him through his journey with ALS. The incredible support allowed his siblings to enjoy their time with him without the burden of caring for him twenty-four hours a day. For this, the entire Leys family would like to express their heart-felt appreciation.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Compassionate Care ALS (CCALS) in Falmouth, MA, Boys and Girls Club of Newport County, and Norman Bird Sanctuary.
Visiting hours will be held at O’Neill-Hayes Funeral Home, 465 Spring Street, Newport on Friday, August 4 from 4-7 pm and a funeral mass at St Mary’s Church, Spring Street, Newport on Saturday, August 5 at 10:00 am.