Moore honors son's legacy with fund to help youths

January 31, 2002|By Michael Olesker

ONE YEAR ago, Lenny Moore turned on a television set and watched the Baltimore Ravens battle the Oakland Raiders for a place in the Super Bowl. Moore, once the glorious Sputnik of Baltimore Colts football championships, had a front row seat in a little intensive care room at Northwest Hospital Center, on Old Court Road in Baltimore County.

"Dad, I think it's gonna be all right," his son Leslie said, looking up from his hospital bed.

The message carried two meanings: The Ravens were going to win, and Leslie Moore, 43, for nine years battling the hideous disease called progressive systemic sclerosis, or scleroderma, was staging a rally of his own.

"Oh, we were so excited," Lenny Moore was remembering yesterday. "My wife, Edith, and my daughters were there, and we were all cheering so loudly that the nurses had to quiet us down. And then, a few minutes later, they came back in and cheered with us."

The cheers carried two meanings, too: They were rooting for the Ravens and for Leslie Moore, who seemed that afternoon to be rallying, first asking for something to drink and then attempting to eat a little food. A nurse said, "If you keep getting better like this, maybe we can get you a better room."

She meant, out of intensive care. The scleroderma - a systemic disease marked by thickened fibrous tissue - had attacked Leslie Moore's lungs, his kidneys, his pancreas. He'd lost most of his strength. Sometimes he seemed to be suffocating.

For nine years, when Lenny Moore looked at his son, he wondered at the vagaries of God's design. Moore is a deeply religious man who gives heavenly praise for the physical gifts that carried him to pro football's Hall of Fame. But now he looked at his son and wondered how things had gone so wrong - and tried to deny how bad they were going to get.

"Looking back," Moore was saying yesterday, "I ran from the truth. I didn't want to hear what the doctors were saying, that my son didn't have much time. I was shielding myself from my own emotions, hearing the worst but hoping for the best."

The worst news arrived the day after the Ravens' victory. Leslie Moore had died in his sleep, hours after his final burst of energy, years after school at McDonogh and at Northwest High, years after he'd had to give up his job at a roller company.

"A very brilliant guy," Lenny Moore remembers. "Whenever anybody in the family had a question about anything, we'd go to him. Did a lot of reading and meditating, and very astute about the world."

When Leslie died, his father wondered how to honor his son. Lenny Moore comes out of Reading, Pa., out of a family of 12 brothers and sisters, with a mother who cleaned houses and a father who worked in a steel mill. Their house had neither electricity nor indoor plumbing.

Lenny Moore's father, growing up in the South, never had schooling and had to be taught to read and write by his wife. Then a whole world opened up. He learned to fix radios and televisions. He wired their house for electricity. His children learned a lesson: Inside each person, there lurked potential.

The lesson stayed with Lenny Moore when his son died. A football scholarship to Penn State had taken Moore out of poverty - but plenty of kids with potential don't have his athletic skills. To honor his son, Moore has established the Leslie Moore Scholarship Foundation, which will hold its inaugural dinner April 22 at Martin's West. (For ticket information, call David Norman at 410-793-3905. For program ads call J. Lee Hardin at 410-592-9139.)

The foundation wants to create a scholarship fund for Baltimore-area high school seniors who need financial help to attend college or vocational school.

Lenny Moore knows a few things about lost potential - from watching his son, and from his post-football career with the state Department of Juvenile Justice. He's a program specialist in prevention and intervention. This means he works with kids about to ruin their lives beyond redemption.

"You look at enough kids," Moore was saying now, "and you realize, you want to do something more to help. And I'd been kicking around this idea, how can I honor my son? And I thought, how about helping other young people? Get 'em some scholarship help if they've worked hard but they don't have money."

For the scholarship fund dinner in April, Moore says he's lined up many of the old Baltimore Colts, such as Raymond Berry, Gino Marchetti, Jim Parker, Lydell Mitchell and Ted Hendricks - plus such NFL standouts as Sam Huff, Franco Harris, Roosevelt Grier, Roosevelt Brown and Bobby Mitchell, and former Boston Celtic Sam Jones.

"The idea is to help those who can't help themselves," Moore said. "A man's legacy isn't fame or fortune - it's his children. You hug and support them, and you celebrate when they're happy, and it never crosses your mind that you might lose them."

One year ago, in a hospital room with the echoes of football cheers still resounding, Lenny Moore lost his son Leslie. But maybe his legacy - and Leslie's - lies in the new scholarship foundation, and all those kids with potential hanging in the balance.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.