Human potential pioneer George Leonard dies
January 7, 2010
George Leonard, a charismatic, tireless journalist who foresaw - and
then pioneered - the human potential movement, died Wednesday at his
home in Mill Valley after a long illness. He was 86.
"He was a tremendous social observer. He was a guide for us," said
his longtime friend, Esalen founder Michael Murphy. "He saw
California as a window to the future, and he was right."
At 6 foot 4, with piercing blue eyes and a booming voice, Mr. Leonard
was an unforgettable presence, associates said.
"George was like a fine pinot noir: elegant, sophisticated, warm,
moving," said Barry Robbins, a student of Mr. Leonard's and vice
president of Integral Transformative Practice, a Mill Valley human
potential institute co-founded by Mr. Leonard. "It sounds like a
cliche, but the world is really a better place for his soul being in it."
Mr. Leonard was a writer for Look magazine when, as early as 1961, he
foresaw the cultural changes that would soon sweep the nation. The
"quiet generation" of the 1950s "is rumbling and is going to
explode," he wrote in a piece for the magazine.
The next year, he predicted that California would be the origin of
those wide cross-cultural changes, which would spring from among
other things a technology boom and a New Age philosophy.
"He saw the fluidity of the culture, the free thinking," Murphy said.
"He saw that you didn't have to abide by so many rules."
Predicted major changes
Mr. Leonard's predictions, which also included an end to the sexual
revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union, later prompted The
Chronicle to comment, "Leonard has been right so many times about
prevailing zeitgeists that you have to wonder if he has a third eye."
Born in Macon, Ga., Mr. Leonard was a descendant of theologian
Jonathan Edwards. He attended the University of North Carolina,
hoping to become a fiction writer, but his literary interests shifted
to journalism after serving in World War II and the Korean War.
He went to work for Look magazine immediately after leaving the
military, serving as a writer and editor from 1953 to 1970. He wrote
extensively about education, the Iron Curtain, social change and
civil rights. His reporting on how people learn and educational
alternatives earned him 11 national awards.
In 1957, he and his family moved to San Francisco, where they hosted
gatherings of famous writers, activists and politicians at their
California Street home.
In 1970, Mr. Leonard left Look, shifting his focus from an observer
of social change to being a participant in it, ultimately becoming an
early leader in the spiritual, psychological and physical movements
taking root at that time. He became active at the Esalen Institute, a
countercultural retreat at Big Sur, and wrote a dozen books intended
to help readers expand their consciousness and achieve their potentials.
Among his books are the best-sellers "Education and Ecstasy," "The
Transformation," "The Ultimate Athlete," "Mastery" and "The Life We
At Esalen, in seminars around the world and in his books, Mr. Leonard
taught hundreds of thousands of people how to think about problems
differently, change self-destructive habits and find a balance
between physical and mental pursuits.
Mr. Leonard also helped popularize aikido in the United States,
earning a fifth-degree black belt and founding an aikido school in Mill Valley.
He was still active at the Integral Transformative Practice months
before he died, leading workshops on exercise, communication, diet,
relationships and understanding.
Esalen is still a thriving retreat offering classes and workshops on
human potential. Over the years, it has attracted celebrities such as
Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Joan Baez.
"He was hugely influential, an icon in the field of human potential,"
said Pam Kramer, president of the Integral Transformative Practice.
"He really was bigger than life."
Mr. Leonard is survived by his wife, Annie Leonard, three daughters
and six grandchildren.
Services are pending.
E-mail Carolyn Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
George Leonard, 1923 - 2010
Mill Valley author dies at 86
by Jason Walsh
January 6, 2010
George Leonard, a pioneer in the human potential movement and one of
Marin's most distinguished residents, died at his home in Mill Valley
this morning from a long illness. He was 86.
Leonard first made his name as editor of Look magazine, in which he
spent 17 years covering the civil rights movement, foreign affairs
and politics, and went on to author several books in the fields of
human potential and education, including the groundbreaking The
Transformation. The president emeritus of the Esalen Institute also
wrote extensively on fitness and held a black belt in aikido. Leonard
will probably be best remembered for his work in human potential, a
concept that grew from the social changes of the 1960s and sought to
utilize peoples' untapped "potential" to live happier, more fulfilled
lives. The movement, for better or worse, came to define Marin County
throughout much of the 1970s.
Leonard is survived by his wife Annie Styron Leonard, daughters Mimi,
Burr and Emily--as well as two brothers and six grandchildren.