Ed Leeper: Monterey Renaissance Man

Ed Leeper Polymath - in his favorite Chair

Ed Leeper, Polymath – in his favorite Chair

Ed Leeper passed away comfortably at home in his favorite chair Friday evening, while methodically perusing his vast collection of Fine Art books with a poetry book in one hand.

Ed was seemingly a permanent fixture of our Peninsula. He was a man of myriad talents and a hero to many. A successful political wizard, a revered conceptual artist, an accomplished outdoorsman, sailor, avid hiker, party animal, potent author of letters to the editor and our community’s leading intellectual Santa Claus who likely gave away more books than anyone in California history.

As a sailor, he met the love of his life — the elegantly eloquent  woman of wisdom Elizabeth. They sailed to Baja together, married without delay upon returning and lived happily ever after in the woods of upper New Monterey. You just knew Ed must be something special upon realizing he captured Elizabeth’s heart.

Political Wizard —

What a shame Ed left us — just a day before the Herald publisher put out a call for exactly Ed’s talents – Letters Editor. “Don Miller: Wanted: Opinion editor

Miller asked for “Superb journalistic skills, ability to sift through varying opinions, ease in community networking, fearlessness in taking on tough positions.” All those are just a few of Ed’s wonderful qualities.

Officially he was a Monterey City Planning Commissioner, he served as Founding Trustee of the profoundly successful public interest groups Helping Our Peninsula’s Environment (which saved Jeffers’ Forest from Clint Eastwood’s Chainsaw Massacre) and Save Our Peninsula Committee which has a published law case with its name on it and the earlier Save Our Waterfront Committee which successfully stopped Dave Potter’s silly Monterey Beach Golf Museum.

Many of Ed’s unofficial acts often made big improvements in our Monterey Peninsula.

Along with some former military “Veterans for PeaceEd stepped into the middle of Alvarado street and stopped an Army tank at the height of Monterey’s 4th of July parade in front of thousands.

They were arrested of course. But the City later dropped the charges, likely due to Attorney Michael Stamp’s charm and eloquent command of Constitutional Free Speech. Perhaps also a bit because Mayor Dan Albert who rarely agreed with Ed politically (he was often deeply mystified by Ed’s almost always reasonable political positions), but had a deep friendly respect for him. (Dan often attended Ed’s wild parties.)

A photo of Ed getting arrested was the Herald’s front page lead photo next day, above the fold. But that didn’t stop the 4th of July parade tanks. So a few months later Ed called the General in charge of California’s National Guard and told him about the fuss and mailed him a copy of the newspaper. The General was smart enough to avoid bad publicity so he halted the tanks.

Ed helped lead the successful battle to stop the gigantic New Los Padres Dam in 1995. Working closely with him on flyers, press releases and media events, I came to appreciate his exceptional ability to get an idea across to the public in the most effective, memorable way. Fittingly, the lead photo of the election victory party on the Herald’s front page was Ed’s triumphant gesture.

Related to that battle, Ed was directly responsible for Fred Keeley getting elected to the Assembly. In the primary, Fred (from Santa Cruz) was up against Karin Strasser Kaufman. So Fred needed political support in Monterey County where he was not well known. Ed wanted the Los Padres Dam dead. They made a deal. Fred won the primary election and coasted to victory in the final. (Keeley later destroyed all the good he did opposing the Dam – by secretly passing a bill giving the Public Utilities Commission control over our Peninsula’s next water project.)

Ed spearheaded and helped lead dozens of other successful public interest Peninsula protection campaigns.

Conceptual artist —

Perhaps Ed’s proudest art piece was called “Six Million.”
He took many months draw a tally, a single vertical line, for every person killed in the Nazi prison camps. He put hundreds of tally marks for each page. The five foot high stack of paper with six million tally marks was exhibited in college libraries up and down the West Coast drawing rave reviews.

Another Leeper project was to read an entire edition of the Sunday New York Times; every word including every ad !  Ed also spent many moons going through an entire edition of Encyclopedia Britannica writing out every human name in every article. He painted each of the names on the walls of his own Big Sur art gallery called “Military Police Substation.”

Ed's Golf Ball Pouring Project

Ed’s Golf Ball Pouring Project

For a few years, he had a lot of fun showing up at formal, and some public, events with a Peach basket filled with golf balls – which he would pour on the floor in the center of the event. They would spread everywhere to the delight (and sometimes chagrin)  of partygoers. (His golf balls kept showing up in hidden places at my home for years afterwards).

Ed’s collection of art books was so large, he once had a show at KAZU in Pacific Grove with thousands of them arranged in a circular sculpture.

His yellow pickup truck was regularly adorned with giant signs he would park at prominent places typically with Peace or art quotes such as “Respect Art” on them.

Threat Level Normal” adorned the truck when black-hearted Cheney and Rumsfield were fomenting a climate of fear. He regularly parked it in front of Monterey’s Presidio and up on the Highway one turnout just North of Carmel. Ed’s “Threat Level Normal” was honored as the revered 2008 Heisler Moot Court Competition theme. They even sold T-shirts with Ed’s quote !

Ed Leeper's Troops Killed in Iraq Memorial,  Monterey's Window on the Bay, 2004

Ed Leeper’s Troops Killed in Iraq Memorial, Monterey’s Window on the Bay, 2004

Another of his projects was to publicly honor the 1,400 troops killed in Iraq (at that time), by making a temporary cemetery at Monterey’s Window on the Bay. He organized dozens of us helping place the crosses, and received community support across the political spectrum.

Recently, Ed was gifted a giant estate of some 30,000 books. Unable to give so many to local library groups and charities, he decided to get rid of the middleman and give them away directly to the public. Thus was born “Liquid Books.” He became a beloved fixture at Monterey’s Farmer’s Market, typically giving away easily 3 bookshelves of books a day. Ed noted with pleasure that the most popular were children’s books. Soon, when word spread of his project and he began receiving thousands of books a month; so many he couldn’t give them away fast enough and had to turn some away.

Ed at Cone Peak, Sept 2010

Ed atop Big Sur’s 5,000 ft Cone Peak, Sept 2010

Besides sailing, Ed enjoyed other exciting activities and sports. He recently enjoyed a birthday with a (dual) parachute jump at Marina. Ed was also rather pleased to have climbed the 14,000 foot Mt Shasta for his 60th birthday. Just recently we climbed Big Sur’s 5,000 foot Cone Peak together, and last fall we shared a thrilling jump-up-and-cheer two weeks watching the exciting 50+ mph America’s Cup sailboat races in San Francisco. I last saw Ed with boxes at the Yellow Brick Road, where he introduced me to some marvelous volunteers.

Ed leaves lots of loving family and a parade of friends. To even make a superficial effort to describe Ed’s fabulous family and friends would take dozens of long and fascinating articles.

What a marvelous fellow. I can see his pleased smile in my mind.

I have a hard time believing he is gone.

Ed, you will always be remembered fondly. I am honored and grateful to have known you, and I miss you.

Warren Chang’s Painting of Ed

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9 Responses to Ed Leeper: Monterey Renaissance Man

  1. Dan Presser says:


    You were one helluva guy. You’ll be missed.

    Big Huggies,


  2. kira says:

    thanks, David – a great piece..ed would be so happy to be published!

  3. Jane Flury says:

    wonderful article- thanks. I will surely miss him.

  4. Heather Chang says:

    He was very kind and so much more. He had a tremendous wamth he shared with many. We were very lucky to have him as a neighbor. Thanks for your remembrances.


  5. Nancy Souza says:

    Ed had such vigor for life Thanks for writing this beautiful elegy !

  6. I was very lucky to meet Ed, see his work and enjoy his company. I miss him very much.. I would like to share the below quote

    “Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.”
    Helen Keller

    Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_death.html#tXpzs8iUdxGxagZO.99

  7. Jasmine says:

    Beautiful eulogy of your cherished friend. Thank you for sharing, he certainly was very special.

  8. Myrtle says:

    I need to to thank you for this wonderful read!!
    I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it. I’ve got you book-marked to check out new stuff you post…

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