Leonard Fant, 82, of Ringgold died Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.
Fant’s funeral services will be today (Monday, Oct. 10) at Brainerd United Methodist Church with Rev. Dennis Flaugher officiating.
Born Nov. 8, 1933, in a one-room house, he was a teenager when he left fields of cotton in Hope, Ark. for the field of medicine, becoming Catoosa County’s “Man From Hope”.
While he did not leave that Arkansas town to become leader of the free world, Leonard Fant’s legacy as a leader and humanitarian seems boundless. He never forgot his early childhood in Hope and often bragged to his fellow Kiwanians, after joining the club in 1957, about the large size of watermelons grown there. To prove his point, Leonard and a fellow Kiwanian rented a truck, drove to Hope and returned with a load of “huge” melons.
Leonard worked for nearly 10 years in the lab at Campbell Clinic at night while attending the University of Chattanooga by day and working at Erlanger and Children’s hospitals between classes. He moved to Barnhardt Circle in 1953, and in addition to his other jobs and schooling, worked nights at the newly opened Tri-County Hospital from its opening day.
“I never missed a fraternity party and I never let anybody bleed to death,” he said during a 2009 interview. “I was like an Energizer bunny.”
While serving as chief med tech at both Children’s and Erlanger, Leonard enrolled in graduate school at Georgia State University. That undertaking required commuting three nights a week to Atlanta after his workday was done. Two and a half years and 63,000 miles later, he received his MBA.
While working in the medical field and attending college, Leonard found time for yet another pursuit. He served four years on the city council and three terms as Fort Oglethorpe’s mayor and city judge.
Leonard was CEO at Erlanger when in 1982 he was offered and accepted the same position at Tri-County Hospital in Fort Oglethorpe. “My first week at Tri-County, the chief financial officer came to tell me that we didn’t have money to make payroll,” he said. “We had doctors, we had business, but we had no money.” A call to Robert McGuff, president of Chattanooga-based Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, secured a loan to make that first payroll and steady the hospital. He was at the helm when the hospital was renamed Hutcheson and underwent a $20 million expansion and renovation plan that included a new surgery department and intensive care unit.
Leaving Hutcheson in 1991, Leonard spent three years raising funds for Asbury Place, a retirement center in Tiftonia, before leaving to head North Park Hospital in Hixson. In 1997, he called a press conference on that hospital’s front lawn to announce its sale to Memorial Hospital.
Leonard was again without a job, but while driving home he received a call from John Germ asking if he would consider coming to Blood Assurance, an organization the two helped form in 1972. That call led to a decade of Leonard’s returning to his roots as a medical lab technician, only this time as an administrator.
Leonard was always the “go to guy” whenever a worthy cause could use help with fundraising or a hospital — or hospital-related organizations needed leadership and vision. A visionary, who recognized a community need, Leonard had the unique ability to delegate responsibilities to get the job done. He believed in supporting the youth of the community “Helping to change the world one child and one community at a time” through membership in the Kiwanis Club of Fort Oglethorpe. He served as president of the local club, lieutenant governor of the Kentucky-Tennessee Division 3, and governor of Kentucky-Tennessee International Kiwanis. In recognition of his outstanding leadership, the Kiwanis Club of Fort Oglethorpe presented to him the Kiwanis International Distinguished Service Award in 2012 and the Diamond George F. Hixson Award.
“I’ve had a marvelous — and crazy — career,” Fant recalled during that 2009 interview. “I never applied for a job, somebody always asked me to do something.”
Throughout his career, Leonard was involved in a myriad of fundraising efforts for causes that have benefited from his efforts and expertise while serving as chair of many charitable and non-profit organizations, such as United Way of Greater Chattanooga, Chattanooga State Community College Foundation’s Dinner of Firsts, Salvation Army, Urban League of Greater Chattanooga, and Friends of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. He also served on the boards of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau of Greater Chattanooga.
Leonard served as president of the Rossville Chamber of Commerce, Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce, and Fort Oglethorpe Chamber of Commerce. He was founder/chairman of the Hutcheson Health Foundation, Walker County Gala, and the American Heart Association’s Heart Gala. An avid golfer himself, Leonard founded the Rick Honeycutt Youth Benefit Golf Tournament. A member of UC’s Kappa Signa, he was instrumental in raising money to rebuild the fraternity house after it was destroyed by fire.
In recognition of his outstanding contributions through community service, Leonard received numerous awards, including: Walker County Chamber of Commerce-Citizen of the Year; Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce-Citizen of the Year; Rossville Chamber of Commerce-Distinguished Service Award; United Way of Greater Chattanooga-Leadership Club Hall of Fame; Chattanooga State Community College Foundation-Leonard Fant Dinner of Firsts; Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame-Fred Gregg Jr., Award; Boy Scouts of America-Silver Beaver Award; Friends of the Park-Drew Haskins Jr. Award of Merit; American Hospital Association-Keystone Crown Award and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga-Golden Key of the National Honor Society.
“His dedication to his hospital(s) and his civic duties are remarkable,” Joseph Parker, president of the Georgia Hospital Association, said when presenting that organization’s Distinguished Service Award in 2008. “Mr. Fant has spent a lifetime making health care better for his community.”
In the golden years following his retirement from Blood Assurance, Leonard continued with his many community duties, golfing, and spending time with his family and the love of his life, his wife Bobbie.
He was preceded in death by his late parents, father, Thomas Silas Fant and mother, Mary Ellen Rogers Fant.
Survivors are his loving wife of 60 years, Bobbie; daughter, Lynn Fant-Burke (Larry Burke); son, Britt (Ruth) Fant; daughter, Drenda (Mike) Paulson; grandchildren, Colbie Fant, Lindsey Paulson McDaniel, Travis McDaniel, Matt Paulson and Kelly Paulson; great-granddaughter, Jordyn McDaniel; sister, Betty Jo Bryant, of Australia; and many nieces and nephews.