Ruthie Leonard

September 10, 1936 – July 17, 2023

[The Episcopal News] Canon Ruthie Leonard – a longtime lay leader and educator in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles – died July 17 at age 86.

A memorial service is set for 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 22 at Holy Communion Episcopal Church, 1160 W. 141st St., Gardena, with Bishop Diane Jardine Bruce officiating.

Survivors include four of Leonard’s five children; Loretta Tolbert (Audwin) of Compton, Bennie Leonard Jr. (Robbie) of Atlanta, Elliot Leonard (Regina) of Long Beach, and Craig Leonard of Beaverton, Oregon; 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren; three step-sisters; and many nieces, nephews, godchildren, and friends. Leonard is predeceased by her husband of 61 years, Bennie, and a daughter, Laura.

Ruthie Leonard works with students at the summer youth program at St. Martin’s Church, Compton.

At her longtime congregation of St. Martin’s in Compton, Leonard was well known for her leadership in the After School Tutorial Program established in 1965, growing out of the St. Martin’s summer program formed in the mid-1950s. After the St. Martin’s and Holy Communion congregations merged in 1998, the tutorial services continued at the Gardena church, where Leonard continued in lay ministry.

In Compton, Leonard ran the summer youth program that annually employed 15 workers from the state youth employment program each year and welcomed 50 students to the St. Martin’s church campus on Wilmington Avenue, which later became a clinic of St. John’s Community Health, a network founded by the parish of St. John’s, Los Angeles.

Leonard was employed by Compton Unified School District, where her career as a natural and environmental science resource tutor began at El Segundo Elementary School. “Being from a rural part of Louisiana she was perfect to teach kids about plants, bugs, small animals, spiders and snakes,” a family obituary notes.

Leonard was honored by the diocese with the “Outstanding Advocate for Children and Youth Award” presented by then Bishop Frederick H. Borsch in 1999. She was named an honorary canon of the diocese in 2011 by then-Bishop J. Jon Bruno.

Ruthie Leonard was a natural and environmental science resource tutor at El Segundo Elementary School.

Ruthie Mae Burton was born in Homer, Louisiana, on Sept. 10, 1936, the eldest child of Johnnie and Virginia Burton. She attended local schools and a Baptist church with her parents before moving to Los Angeles in 1950.

In Los Angeles she attended Carver Middle School and Jefferson High School until she transferred to Compton’s Centennial Senior High School, from which she graduated in 1955. There she participated in the female drill team, the Centennettes and met lifelong friend Margaret Leonard Martin, whose brother, Bennie, became Ruthie Leonard’s husband of 61 years. The couple were married in 1956.

Ruthie and Bennie Leonard retired in Compton and enjoyed traveling to see extended family members and new places.