On Friday, January 7, 1949, God got exceptionally creative and gave us Leonard Ray Messer via his parents, Oscar and Florine Messer. On Tuesday, July 2, 2019, Lee knew that his work here was done, so we gave him back to God. But, OH the difference he made in those 70 years in between!
He grew up in a military family, and had every intention of following the same path. He was an ROTC Cadet Colonel at Phillips High School and in 1966 was honored with the Top ROTC Cadet Award. He continued with ROTC at Jacksonville State University, where he majored in Geology. While putting himself through school working in the cafeteria, he met Elizabeth Skutt, whom he married on January 24, 1970. He remained by her side for 49 years and 159 days. Due to an unforeseen delay to his military career and a high draft number, he accepted a “temporary” position at Jacksonville High School teaching General Science, and the trajectory of his life changed forever. There he found his calling and his true vocation. He continued as a teacher by day and a student by night to get his education degree, focusing on Chemistry. Upon completing his time as a student at JSU, he often returned to moonlight there as an adjunct professor. As days turned to years, he progressed to Assistant Principal at JHS, earned multiple Master’s Degrees, and then became Superintendent of Jacksonville City Schools. After a very short attempt at retirement, he returned to school administration as Superintendent of Talladega City Schools. So many of the things he did in the school system, he also did in the church, with his favorite role being that of Sunday School teacher. As a licensed minister, he had the honor of performing the marriage ceremony for 3 of his children and baptizing one. During all of this time, he never stopped learning, nor did he ever quit teaching, whether it be in school, church, or life in general. Lee was known as many things in his life including teacher, administrator, carpenter, camper, eternal student, explorer, listener, mountain climber, and purveyor of magnificent shenanigans. But his greatest role of all was simply in being “Pa Bear”. His most noted trademarks were his wisdom, his ability to listen well, and his never-ending sense of humor.
He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Skutt Messer and by their greatest collaborative projects of all – their four children: Lisa (Kerry) Chapman, Christopher (Kristi) Messer, Anna Messer, and Katey (Alex) Siqueira. As the years passed, his family tree grew to include the addition of grandchildren: Adam and Lindsey Chapman, Caleb and Tucker Messer, and Vitoria Siqueira. He is also survived by his brother, Bennie Messer and family and brother-in-law, Bill Skutt and family. The list of his survivors would be incomplete, though, without the inclusion of the thousands of students, co-workers, and friends whose lives he greatly impacted. The students who sought careers in scientific fields because he ignited the spark of interest in them… the students who spent “corrective” time in his office and left feeling like they had been listened to and heard… the seekers of excellence who found a true mentor in him – you are his legacy. His life was best summed up by two of his grandsons. According to Tucker, “Pa Bear is a great man, and he helped to make so many other people great, too”. Adam shared, “I think that Pa Bear is probably the closest thing that there has ever been to a perfect man. He’s extremely intelligent, but able give practical knowledge. He is accomplished but modest. He always makes time to listen and never loses his temper. He has always been willing to help anyone who needed it.”
Rather than a funeral, a CELEBRATION of his life will be held on Sunday, July 7th at 2:00 pm at Riverchase Baptist Church (2020 Crossvine Road, Birmingham). Visitation will start at the church an hour prior to the service for family and friends to reunite, share memories, laugh, and remember a life well lived.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society/Light the Night (3500 Blue Lake Drive, Suite 225, Birmingham, AL 35243) or to the Riverchase Baptist Church Mission Program.