COTTONWOOD - Leon Haller was on a life-long trajectory. His grisly, bizarre death, allegedly at the hands of a roommate, has yet to be explained and will certainly play out in court. Friends call it a tragedy.
Gary Schlee is charged with Haller's death in the Verde Village in what has been rumored to be a case of assault and murder, and possibly with a deep philosophical disagreement.
Leon Haller could have been a social worker, and was for a time. He could have been an economist and was. He trained as a lawyer. He was a clothier and in the career before his life was snuffed, Haller was an artist.
A friend from Vermont, Susan Bridge recalls that he had a "wonderful grin and was a kind-hearted individual with a funny, playful streak." She said he was "exceptionally personable," she recalled that he enjoyed playing with his nephews.
There was also a dark cloud. Leon eventually had multiple stents placed in vessels to keep his circulation system going.
He was born and raised in Bayside, N.Y., in Queens and attended Bayside High School, one of the wealthier districts.
Haller went on to Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and then gained an MBA from Stanford. He also attended the University of Michigan Law School.
Like many young graduates, after leaving Lehigh, Leon traveled extensively through Europe. When he finished Stanford he took up John Kennedy's 1960 invitation for a Peace Corps job overseas. He was placed in the very first Peace Corps group assignment in Peru in 1962.
As part of a Life magazine article on The Re-entry Crisis in March, 1965, Leon Haller is described as one of the volunteers who return to a life of obscurity after an adventurous Peace Corps assignment: "28-year-old Leon Haller, holding on a master's degree in economics from Stanford, worked on equal terms with the country's bankers to set up a network of savings and loan associations, a level of responsibility hopelessly out of reach of such a young man in the U.S."
When he returned to the United States, he spoke Spanish and never missed an opportunity to exercise the second tongue.
He is described by a former professor as "intelligent and inquisitive."
He worked as a loan officer for Latin American economic assistance programs of the U.S. State Department at the Agency for International Development.
From there, he became an investment analyst on Wall Street at Standard & Poor, taught finance at the University of Massachusetts and at Babson College.
Teaching gave Haller the skill to print self-help books. He wrote two books on finance. "Finance Resource Management for Nonprofit Organizations" was published by Prentice-Hall in 1982. His second book, published by Van Nostand Reinhold in 1985, was "Making Sense of Accounting Information: A Practical Guide to Understanding Financial Reports and Their Use."
By 1991, Haller wanted to take his business and accounting principals into the real work and opened a fine men's clothing shop, Haller for Men Cambridge and Newburyport. That dream may have been dragged down by the recession and he closed after a couple of years.
He was also involved in the restaurant business, worked as a nonprofit financial manager.
Haller was drawn to Arizona in 1994 after visiting friends in Camp Verde and stayed. "I was captivated by the character and energy I found in the high desert woods, particularly the juniper, cottonwood and sycamore and they drew me into the art of sculpture," he wrote. "There is magic in the shapes of the high desert woods."
"It is the life force of the woods that speak to me, the enormous variety of colors, grains and intense sensuality."
In recent years, those life forces were also expressed in bronze.
Susan Pitcairn, whose Sedona gallery currently shows Haller's work, said he was a "gentle person who had very strong opinions. He could be tenacious," she said. "He was an agnostic, but believed in the golden rule."
She knew that he would argue with his roommate about religion. He was an associate artist, who would work in the studio one day each week.
Haller described his art in wood: "Form is the essence of beauty. Flowing form and the energy once expressed in the wood of a living tree is at the core of my sculpture.
"Finding the wood that stirs my imagination is a happening in itself. Then follows the challenge of revealing the life forces that were and still are incorporated in the allegedly dead wood."
Pitcairn, who is also a poet, said Leon had recently moved one of his sculptures near a framed poem, titled "Life At the Edge." After Leon was killed, she found the poem had fallen from the wall and the glass shattered.
In part it reads: "Life, teaming its promise, In the deepest of snows, Yes, it is perched. Could fall into that void, At any moment, Could all come to an end, Any time now. It's the risk we take, To live life fully."
Posted: Wednesday, February 5, 2014
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Leon was my housemate for a couple of years in Sedona. We grew to be close friends and I miss him terribly. His sense of humor and intelligence were amazing. I keep trying to find out what became of his killer, Gary Schlee. What a waste of a beautiful human being in Leon.