Jack Leffel, 74, got a puppy about six weeks ago, but when his friend Gary Larrowe asked him the dog’s name, he said he didn’t know.
“He hasn’t named himself yet,” Leffel told him.
This went on for more than a week. Larrowe asked, Leffel gave the same answer.
“He just hasn’t named himself. Give him time.”
And then one day, Leffel knew.
“It’s Tut. He’s the king. King Tut.”
Tut was the first dog Leffel ever raised that his wife let inside the house. He captured both their hearts and lived like a king, Larrowe said. He gave Leffel a whole new energy level as he started training him to hunt quail, a hobby that he invited others to participate in on his farm in Botetourt County.
The story sounds trite, but Larrowe, Botetourt County administrator, said it shows one of Leffel’s best qualities: he waited for people to develop their own way, never trying to mold them into something they weren’t. And once they’d revealed their best qualities, Leffel would encourage them to use those qualities in progressive ways.
It’s something that will be missed about Leffel as a leader in Botetourt County, Larrowe said. Leffel, chairman of the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors, died Tuesday during heart surgery. Leffel was first elected to the board in 2011 following 12 years on the county’s school board. He then ran unopposed as an independent in 2015.
“It’s not very often an independent gets into a seat like that and I think that was indicative of how people thought of him,” said John Williamson, a former board member and friend of Leffel’s. “He was reasonable and reliable.”
Leffel led the board of supervisors through a period of immense growth in the county. His colleagues offered up numerous projects Leffel no doubt felt proud to accomplish during his time on the board: recruiting Eldor Corp. to the Greenfield industrial park, the start of construction on a new building for Colonial Elementary School and a landfill deal that is estimated to save the county about $11 million.
Over the years, Leffel was particularly interested in developing agriculture in the county. One of his last votes as a supervisor was to approve home agriculture amendments to allow residents to raise backyard chickens, bees and rabbits. He said he voted for the measure so kids in 4-H programs could have a hands-on opportunity to learn about farming.
“There are so many things they can learn,” Leffel said at the November meeting. “Anytime you have exposure to an educational event like this, it’s really hard to overlook it. I think it’s really important.”
Leffel grew up on a dairy farm near Buchanan. When he was in graduate school studying biochemistry, his father died and Leffel quit school to take over the family farm. Eventually, he started his own dairy operation.
Beth Leffel, 49, said some of her earliest memories of her father was waking up early with him to feed the cows.
“It was just us and it was like he was taking me off on an adventure,” she said. “It made me feel like I was doing big girl farm work.”
Beth Leffel went on to become a scientist and said her interest first started on her family’s farm, where everything is an experiment. Too much rain can kill crops or cattle can unexpectedly get sick.
“You learn quickly that things never go the way they’re supposed to and you have to improvise,” she said. “And it instilled in us a good work ethic, I think. We never saw him quit anything.”
Beth Leffel said her father’s agricultural background was something he weaved into his position on the board. As much as he loved what farming meant to him as a young man, he knew it couldn’t survive the same way forever.
He constantly looked for ways to intertwine agriculture and more traditional forms of economic development. In early March, more than 100 residents attended a board meeting in support of a proposal for a youth agricultural workforce development center. The 25,000-square-foot building would offer much needed space for 4-H and FFA programs as participation numbers grew across the county.
The board wasn’t asked to take any action, but to consider the proposal as they continue to develop the industrial park at Greenfield. At the meeting, Leffel said there were times when being on the board wasn’t pleasant, but at that moment, he never felt better or more proud.
Larrowe, the county’s administrator, said he would call Leffel almost every morning to update him on projects happening around Botetourt County. On Tuesday, Larrowe was on his way to Richmond and decided to give Leffel a break.
“I really wish that I had taken the opportunity to call,” Larrowe said. “He was very, very proud of the efforts that were going on in Botetourt. He has been instrumental and supportive and creative. He laughed a lot. He was inspirational. It was just such an enlightenment to be in his presence.”