Despite a life many would call spectacular, Leon Handley remained a humble country boy at heart. He was born in the outskirts of Lakeland Florida on September 9, 1927 and passed away in his sleep on June 9, 2021. In the ninety-three intervening years Leon was a football player, a campus politician, a medical officer, a law student, a soldier, a cowboy, a trial lawyer, a citrus grower, a big game hunter, a skier, a Sunday school teacher, a world-traveler, a biblical scholar, a chairman of the board and so much more to every life he touched.
Leon served in the United States Merchant Marines during World War II, ending his service as a Warrant Officer. He enrolled in the University of Florida for a summer, then volunteered for the Army. After a tour in Korea he left active duty as a Sergeant and resumed his schooling. He joined the Air Force ROTC and eventual was appointed Cadet Colonel, commissioned, and left military service a Captain in the United States Air Force.
Upon returning to college Leon, became a member (and eventually Worthy Master) of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, received honors including Florida Blue Key and Phi Beta Kappa, and was a member of the university’s track and cross country teams. He graduated with a degree in business administration after just two academic years, and continued his education in Gainesville by enrolling in law school.
Leon settled down in Orlando upon graduation. He practiced law first with Maguire, Voorhis, and Wells, then with Tom Gurney at the firm that would eventually be known as Gurney and Handley. His career continued with Rumberger Kirk, where he delighted in mentoring younger generations of attorneys. Throughout his career he handled cases which shaped Central Florida. But he also loved the ways he could help people as a lawyer, having never taken a fee for handling many adoption cases.
Leon married the belle of Orlando, Mary Virginia Wolfe and they had four children: Hunter, who settled in Australia and raised two boys of his own; Mary Ellen who remained in Florida with her husband and two sons; Laura, the wife of an army officer who raised her daughters across continents, and Leann who lovingly cared for her mother and father in their later years. Those six grandchildren gave Leon nine greatgrandchildren, in whom he delighted. He is predeceased by his parents Driskle and Mamie, his brother Driskle, and his beloved wife Mary Virginia.
The accomplishments and awards Leon earned are vast- among them, Orange County Bar President, the American College of Trial Lawyers and the American Board of Trial Advocates. He was selected as FLABOTA Trial Lawyer of the Year. He taught the same Sunday school class for over 60 years. He was 33rd degree Mason, a Knight Templar, a past President of Rotary and a member of several charitable foundations. He was proud of his affiliations the First Presbyterian Church, the Country Club of Orlando, and the University Club. In his travels he visited over 240 countries. His friends worldwide were too many to count.
Above all, Leon enjoyed fellowship. Whether you crossed his path professionally or personally, Leon always had a story to share and enthusiastically learned about others. His prodigious memory meant he always had the perfect joke or tale and once he met you, neither of you would forget the interaction.
A celebration of life will be held at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando on Friday, June 18 at 11am. The service will be streamed online at www.fpco.org/funeral so all who wish to share in honoring Leon may do so in person or from home. In lieu of flowers, the Handley family welcomes gifts in Leon’s honor to One Heart Orlando www.oneheartorlando.org.
To send sympathy gifts to the family or plant a tree in memory of Leon H. Handley, please visit our tribute store.