Lease embodies servant-leadership

Published 6:51 pm Monday, December 18, 2023

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of seven articles, each highlighting one of the 2023 inductees to the Franklin Community Wall of Excellence.

The Franklin Community Wall of Excellence gained eight new names via its 2023 class.

Those names included David T. Lease, Carolyn and Waverly Lawrence, Travis W. Felts, Clyde E. Parker, Frank M. Rabil, Jennifer Sing and Mona M. Sumblin.

The seventh annual Franklin Community Wall of Excellence Induction Dinner and Ceremony took place Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Cypress Cove Country Club.

As noted in the event’s program, through the vision of some local Franklin City Public Schools alumni and school personnel, the Franklin Community Wall of Excellence Inc. was established in 2016 as a program to honor former Franklin and Hayden high school students, administrators, teachers and staff who have excelled or distinguished themselves through personal and/or professional success, as well as to recognize those community members who have made significant contributions to the public schools in Franklin.

“The Wall” is located at Franklin High School, adjacent to the gymnasium, a Wall of Excellence news release stated. Names and photos of each inductee are displayed for generations of Franklin High School students and community members to see as they walk by on their way to class or an event at FHS.

DAVID T. LEASE

Lease was selected for induction onto the Wall of Excellence in the category of Outstanding Service.

The induction dinner and ceremony printed program highlighted his background and achievements, first noting that he graduated in 1982 from United High School in Salem, Ohio.

He earned a degree in industrial arts/building trades from California University of Pennsylvania in 1986, and two years later, Franklin City Public Schools hired him.

He worked for FCPS for the next 31 years, teaching industrial arts/building trades and coaching golf, basketball, baseball and soccer.

Lease was a highly decorated coach and teacher.

He was named District Coach of the Year in soccer in 1990, then in basketball in 2002, then in baseball in 2004 and 2013 and then in golf in 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2011. He was also named Regional Coach of the Year in 1990 in soccer.

His alma mater recognized him in 2011 when he was inducted into United High School’s Hall of Fame.

The next year, he was Franklin High School’s Teacher of the Year as well as Franklin City Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year.

He received the Field of Excellence Award for his maintenance of Armory Field from 2012-18.

The Masonic Lodge honored him in 2013 with the Community Builders Award for Outstanding Service to the Community.

“In 2016, David became one of the founding members of the Franklin Community Wall of Excellence,” FCWOE officials stated in the event program. “The committee borrowed heavily from the model set up by David’s own high school’s program.”

Lease’s service with regard to school-used facilities extended to the FHS tennis courts when, in 2017, he initiated the effort to resurface them, an effort that included his writing grants for the funding of the project.

The Virginia High School League recognized him near the end of his teaching tenure in the Franklin school division when he received the VHSL Regional Reward of Merit.

The event program then noted that he has been self-employed since 2021.

He has served his community through work with the Habitat for Humanity, the United States Department of Agriculture’s food distribution programs, Relay For Life and the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to being a consistent blood donor with the American Red Cross, he is also an active member of Rock Church of Franklin.

His service to FCPS continues, as he still helps with the maintenance of the concession stand at Armory Field, and he can also be spotted working the scorer’s table at Franklin basketball games.

The event program’s mini-biography on Lease concluded by stating that his interests include spending time with his wife and family, participating in Rock Church activities, playing golf and assisting the elderly in maintaining their homes.

Before calling up Lease’s wife, Pam, to introduce her husband during the induction ceremony, FCWOE Vice President Brian Hedgepeth noted that David “loved the students, he loved student-athletes, and he had a strong work ethic that made it impossible to not like the guy.”

In her remarks, Pam Lease said, “I am so thrilled to introduce our next inductee because he happens to be my favorite person on earth.”

She noted that David and her have been together for 30 years, married for 28.

For her introduction, she highlighted a variety of things people may not know about David.

“He’s one of five boys,” she said, and though to many he is a big guy, she added that compared to his brothers he’s small.

“He grew up in Ohio on a farm,” she said, continuing her list. “He has delivered calves, he’s delivered pigs.”

She noted that he went to college to play football.

“No surprise, but did you know that he had a track scholarship?” she said. “And not shot put. Actually, he still holds two records at his United Local High School for the mile relay and the long jump, and that’s 40-plus years he’s had these records.”

She highlighted that David was a wide receiver on the gridiron, not an offensive lineman, and he was actually scouted by the Detroit Lions during his junior year of college. However, the whole Lions coaching staff was let go, so instead of going to the NFL, the door was opened for a career that ultimately led him to Franklin.

“So yay,” Pam said.

Next, she noted, “Dave and I were a blind date. We were set up.”

She admitted to going to games where he was coaching and joked that some might say she was stalking him a bit.

Highlighting another detail people may not know about him, she said, “Dave was selected in 2002 to be the head coach at the East-West All-Star (basketball) game as the East team (coach), and J.J. Redick happened to play for the West team, and he had already signed with Duke, so this was just so cool. We were so excited to go, and guess what? The East team won.”

Her next fact that people may not know about David drew a big laugh: “Dave won a womanless beauty pageant one time.”

Another fact Pam highlighted about David was both humorous and touching, alluding to their daughter, Colby Lease.

“Dave is Colby’s hero,” Pam said. “We learned this at a parent-teacher conference.”

Pam indicated that the reason why was of particular note, as Colby wrote down the reason, and it was in reference to her adoption.

“Colby then wrote that ‘he sold his Honda Goldwing motorcycle to buy me,’” Pam said, which prompted laughter at the ceremony. Pam added, “Rest assured, our adoption was legal.”

Alluding to her husband’s long tenure of service at Franklin High School, Pam said, “In 2019, it is true I did tell Dave, ‘You need to retire, so it’s Travis Felts or me.’”

This prompted uproarious laughter from those in attendance at the induction ceremony.

She noted that though David did retire in 2019, he has returned to help out at FHS, and she understands that this is his place of service.

She said that after he retired, he did go to work at Camp Community College and made some lasting connections with people there. One of those people was Nic Love, a baseball coach who now coaches at Fayetteville Technical Community College in North Carolina.

Pam closed her introduction by reading remarks from Love.

He wrote, “Looking back on meaningful relationships and people who stood out as a true mentor in my life and career, Dave Lease always rises to the top of that. To think someone I only knew for two years would make such an impact on my life — because he did — is incredible. 

“From total strangers to someone I felt like was another father to me, as I’m sure any of his former students and players have felt too, Dave embodies what servant-leadership is all about,” he wrote.

Love noted that David constantly puts others before himself.

“He works circles around many 20- and 30-year-olds that I know,” Love wrote. “He is loyal as they come, a true philanthropist and driver in this community.”

Pam said, “Folks, will you please welcome my husband and my best friend, David Lease.”

Lease opened by saying, “This is unbelievable. I’m just overwhelmed of all the people here, all the support, all the inductees. I want to thank you all for coming out. I believe this is a great thing that we’re doing here.”

He thanked the FCWOE board for the induction, and he thanked his family for coming and all of his friends.

He shared a variety of humorous stories from throughout his career. Among them was the tale of how he grew up around feet of snow in Ohio and then came to Virginia where mere snow flurries could lead to the closing of school.

With one of his sudden free days due to “snow,” he decided to go to the mall.

“So I tried driving to the mall, and believe it or not, I saw a snow plow pushing sparks,” he said. “I knew coming to Virginia was the best, right decision I ever made. I didn’t have to worry about the snow, didn’t have to worry about all that stuff.”

Lease highlighted his wife multiple times during his acceptance speech.

“Pam already told you how we met, and yes, it’s true — she chased me down,” he said, prompting laughter. “No one ever believed that, but it’s true.”

He also spoke about his enduring friendship with FHS Principal Travis Felts.

“Travis and I work very well together,” Lease said. “He understands me, and I understand him. We have made a great team over the last many years, and he’s got me back for a little bit of time, not long.”

After being inducted to his high school alma mater’s Hall of Fame, he came back to Franklin inspired to start a similar honor for FHS. He said he talked about it with Felts, who encouraged him to form a committee.

So Lease went out and talked to Jim Jervey, Brian Hedgepeth, Mona Sumblin and Frank Rabil.

“I thought they were pretty good,” Lease said. “I mean, they knew a lot of people. So I went back to Travis. Travis said, ‘Who’ve you got?’ I said, ‘I got Jim Jervey, Brian Hedgepeth, Mona Sumblin and Frank Rabil.’ He said, ‘That’s the best you could get?’”

Significant laughter erupted at the ceremony in response to this comment.

“All jokes aside, I’ve learned a lot about Franklin/Hayden High School in the community over the past six years while being on this committee,” Lease said. “This has been one of the most rewarding projects that I’ve ever worked on in my career here in Franklin, so if you ever think of somebody that needs to be nominated, please nominate them, because this committee is unbelievable, this program. I just love it.”

Next, Lease highlighted some of the standout building trades projects he worked on as a teacher in that field for 31 years, helping give students hands-on experience.

“I’m very proud of what they did,” he said. “That’s one thing Travis and me have always agreed on — that we need to recognize our students on things they’ve done.”

He expressed gratitude to Public Works and local businesses for their support for FHS, and he noted that he took pride in winning the Field of Excellence Award seven years straight, meaning that FHS had one of the best painted fields in the state.

“I’m still painting fields even though I quit,” he said.

Recalling his time as a coach, he also noted that “two years in a row, we won the Virginia High School Sportsmanship Award, which is a nice award. Not everybody gets that either.” 

Just before closing, Lease highlighted his girls for their willingness to live the lifestyle of a high school coach along with him.

“They basically grew up in a gym,” he said. “When they were younger and folks asked them where they lived, they wouldn’t say, ‘Franklin, Virginia.’ They would say, ‘Franklin High School.’ So thanks to both for all your support over the years, being my biggest fans.”

In closing, he noted that he always tried to put a smile on teachers’ faces, acknowledging that they have a stressful style of life.

And lastly, he put a spotlight on a quote — “Live each day to the fullest, because you’re not guaranteed tomorrow.” 

“That’s one thing I always live on,” he said.