Leitner hailed as 'one of the good ones'

From left, Jim Leitner, his dog, Salley, and Wes Love sit on the "Leitner Wall" at Winthrop University in December 2005.
From left, Jim Leitner, his dog, Salley, and Wes Love sit on the "Leitner Wall" at Winthrop University in December 2005.

Two weeks ago, as Jim Leitner neared the end of a 12-year battle with cancer, his close friends organized what would turn out to be their final time together.

Instead of a golfing trip like the ones they take twice a year, the group spent an afternoon eating shrimp and swapping stories on Lake Wateree. Leitner, weak but in good spirits, managed to share a moment with each person there.

"God blessed us with Jimmy being able to come," said friend and Citadel classmate Larry Bigham. "We did not want it to be a sad time. We wanted it to be a good time for Jimmy. We wanted him to know that we loved him."

Leitner, who died Sunday at 61, leaves behind a devoted group of golfing buddies -- and scores of construction projects that bear his family's name. Leitner Construction Co. was responsible for projects large and small, from Manchester Meadows soccer complex to the brick signs at Glencairn Garden. Leitner ran the company with his brother, Mac.

One of Leitner's most beloved projects came near the end of his life.

Two summers ago, he and his beloved Boykin spaniel, Salley, devoted countless hours to overseeing construction of the so-called conversation wall in front of Winthrop University's Kinard Building.

Leitner supervised numerous projects for Winthrop over the years and seemed to consider improving the campus his personal mission, even though he didn't attend the school.

After the complicated project was finished, Leitner later wrote a check to pay for the wall, which in turn was named for him. His company also installed the Eagle statue and built the Owens Hall classroom building, among other facilities.

"Jimmy Leitner's affection for the Winthrop community and our affection for him are reflected in many features across the Winthrop campus that were created with his involvement," school President Tony DiGiorgio said in a statement on Monday.

A church leader

Friends say Leitner's warm, easygoing nature was evident in his work at Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, where he served as vestryman, senior warden and foundation member.

"He was always so easy to talk to," said Randy Graham, who coached Leitner's son, Tripp, in the church basketball league. "He just always made you feel comfortable around him."

Golf became Leitner's favored sport later in life, but it was football that gave him notoriety. He quarterbacked Chester High School to a state title in 1963 and earned a football scholarship to The Citadel, where he also played quarterback.

Classmates recall a warmth that made Leitner stand out from other, more hard-nosed cadets. He didn't taunt first-year grunts as other upperclassmen did.

"He seemed to watch after the freshmen," said classmate Albert Oliphant. "Some of them make your life miserable. Some do what they can to help you. He was just one of the good ones."

Years later, Leitner would routinely make phone calls to help men from Rock Hill gain admission to The Citadel. He'd also look after his construction workers, lending help to those who needed it.

"Jimmy's greatest strength was his relationships with people," said Herb Hamilton, who hosted the get-together two weeks ago. "He loved to help people behind the scenes. He didn't want credit for it. He was very generous about how he did it."