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Bob Leonard, Veteran Anti-Bases Activist, Died Last Week

Bob Leonard, founder and leader of the Anti-Bases Campaign (ABC), died on August 13th in Wellington Hospital. He was 74.

He’s definitely worth an obituary or news report. It’s very topical, considering the current furore about the GCSB BIll

This is based on what I sent to our members.

To briefly summarise – Bob was the face and voice and engine of ABC since it was founded. In many respects he was the ABC. He played a leading role in all our campaigns past and present – such as Harewood, Black Birch, and of course, Waihopai (where he was arrested once). For reporters who covered our Waihopai protests, he was unforgettable as Uncle Sam.

He and Barbara and their infant son Graham (who is now Dr Graham, a nationally renowned volcanologist) came to Christchurch from the US in 1982 as Reagan refugees, to get away from the threat of nuclear war. Immediately they plunged into the local peace movement. In those days, 30 years ago, CAFCINZ (now Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa - CAFCA) was very much a peace and anti-bases group. That’s how I met them – they’d bring little Graham to meetings in our lounge and put him down to sleep in a sleeping bag behind the couch.

Very soon Bob (and I) set up Citizens for the Demilitarisation of Harewood, a group campaigning about the US military base at Christchurch Airport. Once the Waihopai spy base was announced, in 1987, the Anti-Bases Campaign was born.

He was the founder of ABC’s newsletter Peace Researcher, in 1983, and was Editor or Co-Editor until health reasons forced him to quit in 2002. He continued as a PR writer for several more years. One highlight was becoming an accredited court reporter for the 2008 Blenheim District Court depositions hearing for the three Waihopai Domebusters. He was the only journalist present who religiously followed the Registrar’s instruction that the dress code was jacket and tie.

He wrote all of ABC’s submissions, some of which are remarkably topical (such as on the GCSB Act that is the process of being replaced by the Government at present. His submission on that correctly predicted that it would result in domestic spying and that any “oversight regime” was a joke).

He fronted Parliamentary Select Committees and the Intelligence and Security Committee. He spoke at public meetings around the country, he did innumerable media interviews. For many years he acquired and analysed the official flight data recording US military planes arriving and departing from Harewood.

He was centrally involved in helping the defence of the three Waihopai Domebusters. His expert affidavit was of great importance and he was delighted that they were acquitted of criminal charges by a Wellington jury in 2010. It was very shortly after that trial that his health really packed up (he had been battling a number of very serious health problems since the 1990s). But he wasn’t going to let poor health stop him – his last visit to Waihopai was in late 2010, when he accompanied two leading Filipino political activists (who were making an NZ speaking tour) to the base. By that stage he could only walk with the aid of two sticks – he drove himself, solo, from Christchurch to and from the Marlborough base.

Bob was not just involved in ABC. In those early years, from the 80s through to the early 90s, Bob was also heavily involved with the NZ Nuclear Free Zone Committee and groups such as Educate for Nuclear Disarmament and Nuclear Free Kiwis. He worked closely with major figures in the peace movement, such as Larry Ross, Owen Wilkes and Nicky Hager. As a scientist (he worked at Lincoln University from his arrival in the country until just a few years ago) he was actively involved on peace and nuclear issues among fellow scientists and experts. He represented the NZ peace movement overseas, and on his frequent trips back to the US (where he had three kids and several grandkids, from his first marriage) he was happy to combine peace activism with his vacation.

He was also a very active environmentalist for decades. Nor was he just an academic greenie  - for example, he was among those who sat in front of logging trucks in a West Coast native forest on one occasion. He was a central figure in the Craigieburn Trust.

He was a very active member of CAFCA from 1984-2010 and from 2000-2010, he was an active member of the Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa.

Earlier this year the ABC Committee was able to get into Bob and Barbara’s quake-damaged house (they fled to Wellington immediately after the February 22, 2011 killer quake) and get out a whole lot of files and other papers. As time allows, I have been systematically going through them and have been fascinated by the sheer volume, range, breadth and depth of Bob’s peace movement work, not just for ABC. We also got out a whole lot of historic photos and a number of them have gone to a good home – namely Maire Leadbeater’s forthcoming book “Peace Power & Politics: How New Zealand Became Nuclear Free” (to be published in November). Bob features prominently in the book.

Throughout his nearly 30 years in Christchurch, Bob and I were not only very close colleagues (we made a good team on ABC and Peace Researcher) but very close friends. We had a lot of fun together.

We were particularly close throughout 2010, his last full year in Christchurch, and we spent a lot of time together. We talked about everything, including death – he was a scientist and had no doubt. “Death marks the extinction of consciousness”. That may be so but my memories of Bob, and those of innumerable other people, will never be extinguished. He was a genuine (non-violent) warrior for peace. He abhorred violence so much, whether to humans or animals, that I’m aware of him having walked of at least two major movies, one of them an Oscar winner (I witnessed that walkout, by chance). He was a passionate dog man, always had a house and/or his “dogmobile” full of them, and he and Barbara volunteered at Dogwatch for many years. He was a great friend (who also cured me of any prejudice I may have had towards Americans), and someone who will be badly missed by all who knew him.

He leaves behind his wife Barbara, their son Graham, his three children in the US from his first marriage - Andra, Brendan, Mark - and eight grandkids.

Let me know if you’d like a photo of him, and if you’d like contact details for Barbara


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