Longtime Laguna Beach businesswoman and resident Leah Leary died March 2 from complications following back surgery. She was 72.
Leary opened the Laguna Gander store on the corner of Glenneyre Street and Forest Avenue in 1974. It was a fixture on the avenue for 28 years.
"She had an eye for the perfect items to carry, with something for everyone," said close friend Jan Fritzen, who admired Leary's entrepreneurial spirit.
After Leary retired in 2002, she kept active: delivering Meals on Wheels, playing bridge, poker and golf. She entertained.
Leary was an avid fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and football. Friends said she loved beach parties, gardening and games that she played in a competitive, fun-spirited way.
"Her friends loved the twinkle in her eyes, her distinctive laugh, her always-encouraging attitude and big smile," niece Janice Lamb said.
Family members said she was known as a risk taker and an adventuresome woman: determined, independent and self-sufficient, with a great sense of humor.
It was her independent spirit that brought her out west, where she knew no one, Fritzen said.
Leary was raised in Rochester, N.Y., and attended Nazareth Academy Catholic Girls School where she excelled in sports and was named to the all-star basketball team in her junior and senior years. She was also junior class president.
She went on to Brockport State Teachers College near Rochester.
After graduation and tired of East Coast weather, she moved to California, Fritzen said.
"She had her eye on Laguna Beach," Fritzen said.
Leary taught elementary school in the La Puente District for three years. For the next 15 years, she taught fifth grade at Skylark School and resource classes at Doig Intermediate School in Garden Grove.
"She was known as an excellent and dedicated teacher for her 18 years in education as she encouraged her students with an accepting, supportive, encouraging and fun-loving attitude," Fritzen said.
Leary is survived by her partner of 34 years, Dixie Jordan; her long-time friend Barbara Miller; family members Linda Bell, Michael Leary, David and Leslie Romanchick, Jon and Laurie Korber, Martin and Mary G. Leary, six nieces, a nephew, many grandnieces and nephews and a wide circle of friends.
"Leah would have encouraged you to spend time with your loved ones," Fritzen said.
No memorial service is planned. However, donations may be made in Leary's name to R.U.F.F. (Rescuing Unwanted Furry Friends) in Laguna Beach at http://www.ruffrescue.org or the American Cancer Society at http://www.cancer.org.