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Algird ‘Al’ Leiga

Devoted husband, father, Claremont champion

A 40-year resident of Claremont, Algird “Al” Leiga died August 2, 2013 at Pomona Valley Hospital following a brief hospitalization and a losing battle with cancer. Mr. Leiga was 80 years of age.

The man who would become a local stalwart was born in New York City on March 25, 1933 to George and Mary Leiga. His grandparents were originally from Lithuania.

An only child, Mr. Leiga grew up in Brooklyn where he attended and graduated from Franklin K. Lane High School in 1951. He went on to college at New York University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1955, a master’s degree in 1960 and his doctorate in physical chemistry in 1963. The next year he joined the Xerox Corporation in Rochester, New York where he was a senior scientist in the Physics Research Laboratory. He came to Claremont in 1973 and was with Xerox Medical Systems in Pasadena, managing the Consumables Technology and Manufacturing Group. He retired from Xerox after more than 3 decades, in 1995.

In the interim, while he was a college student, Mr. Leiga met Ann Dumig at a church dance in New York. The couple was married on September 3, 1955 and began a lifelong partnership.

Mr. Leiga’s service to the Claremont community began before his retirement when he was elected to the Claremont City Council in 1990 and served on that body until 2003, including his terms as mayor from 1994 to 1997. Along the way, he was active in a variety of community activities including, but not limited to, the then Claremont Chapter of the American Red Cross where he served as chairman, the board of overseers at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, the Claremont Community Foundation and the Claremont Rotary. He was a 10-year member of the Board of Directors at Pilgrim Place where he served as chairman, vice chairman and treasurer.

In the wider area, he was a trustee of the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District and a member of the Los Angeles County Commission on Quality and Productivity, along with his membership in the steering committee of the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee of the National League of Cities. A particularly important activity and passion for Mr. Leiga was serving as chairman and founding board member of the Gold Line Construction Authority and his membership on the executive board of Foothill Transit, where he worked to develop and improve public transit.

Mr. Leiga was very active in the congregation of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, where he was a member of the Administrative Council and a charter and 3rd Degree member of the OLA Council of the Knights of Columbus.

Admiration of Mr. Leiga has come from many who knew and worked with him.

Bill Cunitz, President and Chief Executive Officer at Pilgrim Place, described Mr. Leiga as “an amazing mentor with an ability to collaborate and draw out the best in people. He was a great problem- solver.” Mr. Cunitz also noted Mr. Leiga’s contributions to transit services throughout the county and his devotion to his wife of 58 years. “It was typical of him to be so thoughtful.”

Friends from Claremont Rotary added their praise. “He was a superhero to me,” Anita Hughes noted, “because of his care for Ann. He also served as chairman of the Rotary’s spring egg hunt for a number of years.”

Rotary friend Randy Prout observed that Mr. Leiga was “a consummate gentleman. He was devoted to Ann, and that spoke volumes about him. He could work ‘both sides of the aisle’ for the good of everybody in the community. He won’t be forgotten.”

Bob Rudolph, a fellow member and friend at OLA, described Mr. Leiga as a “very special guy. What he did for his wife was fantastic. He was very, very loyal to his family and to his church. He was a conservative-minded person and we would tease him occasionally about how he ever got to be a council member in Claremont.”

Claremont resident Jeanne Kennedy served with Mr. Leiga on the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission. Ms. Kennedy noted, “Al was well-respected throughout the county for his business perspective, fresh ideas and different slant on ways to improve government services. He served as chair of the commission for 3 years while encouraging county managers to take full advantage of advances in technology. He will be remembered as a clear thinker whose goal was to help local government become more effective.”

Fellow local government members were equally appreciative of Mr. Leiga.

Former fellow council member Paul Held noted Mr. Leiga’s achievements on two planes—“One was as a family man and devoted husband. The other was as a council member who brought a conscientious, balanced perspective and most of all cared about Claremont.”

Suzan Smith served as a fellow council member for 9 years. “First of all, he was wonderful to work with.” On an occasion when Caltrans wanted to widen Foothill Boulevard, Ms. Smith recalled in a humorous vein that Mr. Leiga came up with an innovative method of blocking the expansion by parking city trash trucks along the thoroughfare. On a personal level, Ms. Smith recalled Mr. Leiga’s thoughtfulness during a period of time when she had lost her husband and he kindly escorted her to a number of city events.

Another companion council member, Karen Rosenthal also remembered Mr. Leiga being “such an involved caregiver for his wife,  Ann, who has had MS (multiple sclerosis) for so many years. He realized that council members had to consider the whole community and its needs, not just the desires and hopes of one segment of residents. Firm in his convictions, he could dig in his heels, but he was never bitter or nasty.  Al was good to work with, true to your face, not a back-stabber and certainly not an ideologue.”

Ms. Rosenthal recalled Mr. Leiga’s good sense of humor, particularly during a period of time when he was the only man on the council. She remembers his jokingly claiming that he was the “pack mule” of the group when he ended up carrying lipsticks, drivers’ licenses, credit cards and cash in his jacket pockets to conferences and meetings for the female members of the group. She also recalled that Mr. Leiga enjoyed cooking and making wine and pomegranate jelly.

Longtime Claremont resident Diann Ring had the longest tenure as a fellow council member with Mr. Leiga.

“I was fortunate to have served on the city council with a number of dedicated, caring, smart and good-natured individuals. Al Leiga is one great example. Lists of boards, chairmanships and years of service are one measure of a man, but there are others. On paper, we were political opposites. But in fact, Al and I almost always voted the same regarding issues important to the future of Claremont.”

Ms. Ring also recalled a humorous side to the relationship when she and fellow council members Judy Wright and Sue Smith set out to change Mr. Leiga’s wardrobe from what she described as “Xerox Corporation gray and black.” The trio escorted him on shopping trips while attending regional meetings to add a more colorful wardrobe.

“The week before he was to become mayor, he asked me to go shopping with him at the Nordstrom’s men’s sale. I helped him pick out a stylish California suit, shirt and tie. He later was named the ‘Valley’s Best Dressed Mayor’ by the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.” 

Ms. Ring noted that Mr. Leiga subsequently dressed and “showed up in whatever the uniform of the day was,” whether a tuxedo for council dinners or work clothes to plant trees. “He not only showed up, but he truly did the work. Al, Judy (Wright), Nick (Presecan), Enid (Douglass) and Alex (Hughes) are all gone now, but their contributions and service to the city of Claremont must never be forgotten. I love and mourn them all.”

Mr. Leiga was an enthusiastic and avid traveler along with his wife during retirement years. He served as president of the computer club and offered volunteer tax assistance to residents through the Claremont Senior Centers as well.

Mr. Leiga is survived by his wife of more than a half-century, Ann Leiga of the Pilgrim Place Health Center; by his son and daughter-in-law, Gerard “Jerry” and Lora and their children, Alexandra and Ethan of Placentia; by his daughter Susan Leiga and her partner Kathryn Waters and Susan’s daughters, Emily and Elizabeth of San Leandro; by his daughter Kathryn and her children, Connor, Quinn and Jessica of Rockland; and by his son and daughter-in-law, Steven and Kate, and their sons, John and Andrew of San Andreas.

A memorial service for Mr. Leiga was held on August 8, 2013 at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, followed by burial at Oak Park Cemetery in Claremont.

—Pat Yarborough

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