GRISAMORE: For 55 years, ‘Amazing Grace’ hasn’t missed an issue

January 30, 2014 

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” That’s the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service.

Leonard Grace does not drive a mail truck, deliver letters or make swift getaways from mean dogs.

He edits the weekly bulletin for the Exchange Club of Macon. But he has followed that familiar creed for more than a half-century -- with an addendum:

Neither heart attacks nor gall bladder operations nor famines nor floods nor dead car batteries nor business trips nor late-night rehearsals have kept him from the swift completion his appointed rounds.

He has probably scaled a few mountains and forded a few rivers, too.

Leonard has been publishing newsletters for local Exchange Clubs since August 1958. It began with the Exchange Club of Bibb County, then switched to the larger Exchange Club of Macon when the two clubs merged in 2004.

He has never missed an issue. He has never taken sabbatical or busted a deadline. That is 55 years, six months, 2,884 bulletins and somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.5 million words.

Snow and ice this week? No problem. Old Faithful went to press with the SWAPS (another name for Exchange) bulletin, even though Thursday’s meeting was canceled because of the winter weather.

In 1998, he was recognized nationally for 40 years of publishing the newsletter without interruption. At the time, his longevity was believed not only to be a National Exchange Club record but a national record for all civic clubs.

And that was 15 years ago. The streak is still going. Leonard Grace is the Joe DiMaggio of newsletter editors.

Those who know him call him Amazing Grace. He is one of the most delightful gentlemen I have ever met. He has taught Sunday School for more than 50 years at Forest Hills United Methodist, where the Grace Bible Class bears his name.

He has been tapping his way around a typewriter keyboard for most of his life. When he was a student at Mercer, he was hired by Principal A.J. Swann to teach typing twice a week at Lanier High School.

He married his wife, Ann, on March 23, 1958, at Cherokee Heights Methodist Church. Five months later, he became a charter member of the Exchange Club of Bibb County, the first exchange club in the nation to be affiliated with a county.

At the club’s inaugural banquet, he was asked to serve as master of ceremonies partly because of his engaging personality and partly because he owned a white dinner jacket.

He also was recruited as “temporary” editor of the Servitor, which means “one who serves.” He is the epitome of the definition in the dictionary.

Obviously, the meaning of “temporary” has been lost in translation for the past 20,272 days.

In the early years, he patterned the Servitor after a Sunday School newsletter he had edited at Cherokee Heights. It was printed vertically on a single sheet. Leonard typed it three times on stencil on an old Royal manual typewriter -- once for content, a second time for spacing and a third time for column justification. It took him four hours every Sunday afternoon.

His speed picked up when he purchased an electric typewriter in the early 1960s. Then along came the computer age and the wonders of electronic mail.

Still, a reduced workload hasn’t always lifted the long odds of making deadline every week for the retired civil service worker at Robins Air Force Base.

He has suffered two heart attacks, had three defibrillators and four pacemakers. His son and only child, George, died of cancer in 2002.

Once, Ann had to rush Leonard to the hospital for emergency gall bladder surgery. He sat in the front seat giving her instructions on mailing labels and stamps for the next issue.

“I pride myself in never having missed one,” he said. “I have been up there in the heart tower at the Medical Center, figuring out how to get out the next issue.”

For a dozen years, he played the role of Santa Claus in the traditional Holiday Spectacular at Macon Little Theatre.

He also has been a devoted caregiver for Ann, who has glaucoma and has almost completely lost her vision. She remains his biggest cheerleader, most ardent supporter and staunchest editor when his wit, wisdom and trademark humor occasionally cross the line.

SWAPS is now distributed by email every week. Once a month, club members receive a printed edition. He also prints a few of the online versions every week and delivers them to club members who do not have email accounts.

Leonard lost his father, two brothers and a sister to heart failure. After his heart problems resurfaced in November, doctors told him his heart has become considerably weaker. An experimental new drug might prolong his life, but it also carried a risk.

He decided against the treatment.

“I’m 82 years old, and I don’t want to play God,” he said. “I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

He calls it a labor of love. You won’t ever find him worrying about his final issue, only the next one.

Reach Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com.

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