A passion for affordable housing and a love of travel have taken Paul Leonard ’62 around the world—to more than 70 countries, to be exact.
“I learned that it’s not about the house. You check your wallet and pedigree, and you pick up a hammer and work beside a family in need,” he said. “I worked with one mother who, when asked how she got her house, said she earned it. That confidence is amazing.”
A common thread runs through Leonard’s life and career–faith. Through leadership roles in churches, on the board for Habitat for Humanity International (and as interim CEO) and in his career with Centex Real Estate Corporation and the John Crosland Company, where he focused on developing affordable housing, Leonard says faith has been a centering force.
A self-proclaimed “liberal preacher,” Leonard was tapped to lead Habitat for Humanity International during a rough transitional period for the organization. There were 400 employees, and he asked his assistant to set up individual meetings with each person. He asked about their lives, and he laid the groundwork for holding an organization together during a stressful time.
“The most meaningful thing is to sit down with someone and have an open conversation,” he said. “They listen, I listen, we have an exchange. We appreciate one another. That translates in church, in business and in the non-profit world.”
Leonard has led transformational change in people’s lives through his various roles, but he likes to keep his focus on how others have changed his life, not the ways he has contributed to theirs.
“I think of myself as a blessing receiver, not as a game changer,” he said. “I have seen and learned a lot by visiting other parts of the world. In Manila [Philippines], where we went to help build, teenagers with shotguns were guarding banks, and the conditions were absolute poverty. Every morning, women would wake up and lead worship services. It was like they were rich in the aspect of the spirit, and I was rich in assets of the world. It was very eye opening, and that is a blessing.”
The liberal arts education Leonard received at Davidson prepared him for each step of his career by giving him “a broad understanding of life in general as well as the particulars.” The history major was also deeply interested in philosophy courses because he was required to “learn their languages.”
“You have to master what this person is talking about, and their definitions are different,” he said. “I really think that prepared me for a career with a lot of change. I could learn the dialogue and the terms that were needed to relate to people.”
In one of the three books he authored, Leonard asks the question, “Where is church?” His answer: It’s anywhere two or three people get together.
Through his work and advocacy, Leonard has given countless others places to gather and places to call home. Maybe that’s why his friends assert that he has never stopped being a preacher; he has simply changed pulpits.
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