Loran Smith: Remembering Don Leeburn

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Loran Smith: Remembering Don Leeburn

Loran Smith
Loran Smith

All of us bring about multiple images as we travel life’s journey, and we will be remembered differently by those with whom we cross paths.  For the Payne Hall fraternity of the late fifties, there were some interesting characters with divergent and varying ways.

Payne Hall was the athletic dorm at the University of Georgia at that time.  Athletes on scholarship lived there, primarily because of the training table in the basement.  Players on all teams were housed there along with those who were tryouts, the term for “walk-on” athletes in that era.

 

 

 

 

It was not “Animal House” altogether, but those of that ilk were abundant and very prominent.  However, there were some doggedly serious students who knew the importance and consequence of a degree.  They had the discipline and the commitment to leave campus with a sheepskin.

I could tick off names of those who were not headed to the National Football League; the many who were not necessarily “Touchdown” heroes but who were quality athletes who played for the “Glory to Ole Georgia,” and would become most valuable alumni.

One of those was Columbus native Don Leebern Jr., who passed away a few days ago.  Leebern was the son of a wholesale liquor dealer and would take the family business to new heights.  Owing to the death of his father, there was an interruption of his educational process.

 

 

 

 

On campus, he kept himself in peak condition to satisfy the rigors required of offensive lineman of that era.  He wasn’t the biggest member of the “trenches clan,” but at 6-2, 215, was big enough to start and compete fluently in the Southeastern Conference.  He had the assets of a canny streetfighter.  His smarts and competitive passion made him a winner, who elicited high praise from his line coach J. B. Whitworth and the head man, Wallace Butts.

Although the family business was the sale of spirits, Leebern didn’t drink.  He never hung out at the popular beer joints with his teammates who were given to such routine.   He spent his downtime in his room studying or at the library.

He dated one of the prettiest coeds ever on campus, and she later became his wife.   While he was a member of the SAE social fraternity, he was a serious student who enjoyed quiet conversation with his teammates in the dorm.

When his father passed away late in the fall of 1959, Leebern left Athens, and soon took over the family business empire at the tender age of 21.

With the same work ethic that he identified with on the football field and the good business sense that came natural with him, he soon had Georgia Crown scaling new heights in the marketplace.  Ties with one of the quality names in the spirits world, Seagram’s, his business savvy got the attention of the Bronfman family, who owned the brand.

Leebern expanded Georgia Crown into Alabama and Tennessee.  He developed satellite distribution centers across the Peach state.  As the company grew, he hired former teammates and Bulldog football players as salesmen. He has always had a deep and abiding commitment to the University of Georgia, serving on the UGA athletic board and was a long-time appointee of the Board of Regents.

Lettermen from 1957-59 teams will tell you the thing that all players on all teams consider the ultimate import—that Don Leebern was a good teammate. If you really knew him, you are likely to recall a time when he befriended you and your family.  He was very generous to his friends.

There was an incident on campus that helps define the Don Leebern we all knew and appreciated.

Sanford Drive runs down the middle of campus and is now closed to automobile traffic.  In the late fifties, however, it was an active thoroughfare.  One day, a blind student was crossing the street in front of the old Commerce-Journalism Building.

A jerk of a student easing down Sanford Drive suddenly sat down on his horn, causing the blind student to panic as he frantically tried to find solid and safe ground with his white cane.

Leebern went over to the driver’s side of the car, opened the door and gave the driver a “knuckle sandwich.”  As the driver slumped over the steering wheel unconscious, ‘ole No. 77 unceremoniously headed off to class.

That is one of the many images Don Leebern’s former teammates and old friends have of this “Damm Good Dawg,”

 

 

 

 

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2 responses on “Loran Smith: Remembering Don Leeburn

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