December 30 – Happy Birthday Leon Henry Huston

leonhh2One of the things that has always bothered me is the lack of long-term recognition those who earn their high school’s Valedictorian and Salutatorian honors receive. That’s the case at my alma mater, Amsterdam High School. Once the public announcement takes place, the local newspaper shows up to take a picture and the two students honored get to make a speech at their graduation ceremony. After that it’s pretty much a “forget about them as quickly as possible” sort of recognition. It always amazed and disheartened me that students who put forth outstanding efforts in sports get their names or uniform numbers forever memorialized in impressive trophy cases that remain in place at the school just about forever so that future generations of students can be inspired by their accomplishments, while those who put forth outstanding efforts in the classroom receive no such lasting recognition and as a result go unnoticed by future generations. It’s backwards folks!

So I’m thinking of ways to formally memorialize the top two academic students of each graduating class in Amsterdam High School’s long history (perhaps SMI’s and Scully’s too). As part of that thought process I’ve been researching the individuals who accomplished the feat and that effort has resulted in today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant.

His name is Leon Henry Huston. He was named Valedictorian of his Class of 1941 at Lynch High School. He had come to Amsterdam as a toddler, when his father, Leon L. Huston a native of Maine had accepted the position of Physical Director at the Amsterdam Y.M.C.A. The elder Huston became a legend while here in the Rug City. He created a masterful collection of recreational events centered upon physical activities and packaged them in tournament and league formats that made them easy to market to Amsterdam youth.

Upon graduation from high school, young Leon had received a scholarship to attend Columbia University, where he began his studies in industrial engineering in the fall of 1941. Just a few months later, the attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into the World War and Huston left Columbia to enlist in the Army. He was assigned to the 52nd Fighter Group and became a cryptographic technician. He saw service in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe before being discharged in September of 1945 and resuming his studies at Columbia. He graduated in 1947 with his bachelors in industrial engineering and went to work as an engineer for the City of New York. He then moved into the pharmaceutical industry and became a highly respected manager and consultant for some of the World’s largest drug companies.

He married a girl from Westchester County in 1958 and they ended up raising a family of two daughters and a son in Larchmont, NY. Leon’s Dad left his position at the Amsterdam YMCA for a similar job in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1943, taking with him most of the reasons why today’s Birthday celebrant would have had for frequently returning to our area. Instead, Leon’s lucrative consulting career took him around the World.

When he retired, he continued to travel the globe with his family but also found time to devote to Habitat for Humanity and the Hunger Task Force. I believe its safe to say this product of Amsterdam’s public schools represented our community with distinction during his long and productive lifetime. He died in 2006 at the age of 82.

2 thoughts on “December 30 – Happy Birthday Leon Henry Huston

  1. Dear Author,

    Just a quick note of thanks, deep thanks, for posting this remembrance and birthday wishes for my father Lee. I’m a few years late on this thank you note, but only came across it today. Today being just a few days from the 13 year anniversary of his death.

    I wholeheartedly agree that he represents the best of the Amsterdam Public School System and community, but he was so much more.

    My father was generations ahead in his thinking; in many ways. He was early adopter and innovator in organic gardening, rejecting pesticides for home made compost. His small garden plots in the clay soil of lower Westchester County were the envy and salad makings of all of our friends and neighbors. As a child of the depression he only threw away what he couldn’t recycle, compost or reuse. We had the most sophisticated back hall way recycling center I have ever seen. We groaned about it then, but he knew.

    I recall many times when he showed genuine prescience. “What will happen when everyone in India and China throws away plastic? Or drives big cars? Or uses throwaway shaving foam cans?” He saw all of the world reverting back to the economic reality of the year 1400 when a full 50% of global GDP was between India and China. He knew.

    His love of history and Genghis Kahn inspired me to look to Asia as a young man. Because of that spark I studied Chinese in college and did post graduate work in Taiwan. I have lived and worked in Asia, intermittently, over these past 35 years and now reside in Singapore. I dragged him all over “God’s good earth” as my mother would say; Japan, the Great Wall, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Sweden, Scotland, Bermuda, and others. His open mindedness and interest in how the ordinary people of the world worked and lived was as inspiring as it was unusual and refreshing. He loved walking down back alleys and finding the roadside joints the truck drivers ate at. Despite his family’s long and storied American pedigree, the full scholarship Ivy league boy was a true man of the people.

    His conservation streak inspired me get involved in alternative energies; new nuclear for marine propulsion to de-carbonize the oceans, and others.

    He was a great father and a very good friend. I was very lucky indeed.

    Thanks again for remembering him and posting this online.

    With thanks and very kind regards,

    Anthony Grant Huston

    Singapore, 2019

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    1. Anthony, I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to read your comments regarding my post about your Dad. My research on your father clearly indicated he led an accomplished life but your comments will help folks from his old hometown understand just how special he was, not just as an innovator but also as a father. By the way, next week I am making a presentation to the Amsterdam School Board which hopefully will result in a permanent display being added to the School’s Hall of Fame which will list every Valedictorian and Salutatorian in the school’s history. Your father’s name will be included. Thanks again!

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