When I met Bob Leidy three years ago, I wrote that at age 88, he was "weathered but vigorous and full-haired," a retired school custodian who kept busy tending backyard greenhouses and, as always, with church activities.
From his youth, Mr. Leidy had been involved in evangelical revival services as a singer and later a songleader in and around Altoona. And it was in that capacity that he served as a valuable eyewitness for the story I wrote on one of the more intriguing footnotes of Billy Graham's evangelistic career -- the 1949 Altoona crusade that, as Billy Graham and his associates always told it, nearly sank the evangelist's career just months before Graham skyrocketed to fame in Los Angeles.
I just learned from the family that Mr. Leidy died this September at age 91.
What I'll remember most was how Mr. Leidy visited Altoona's Jaffa Shrine with a PG photographer and me. He stood on the same stage where he sang in the crusade choir during Rev. Graham's services and sang out to the empty rows of wooden folding chairs that remained amid the auditorium's ornamental Arabic lettering and Moorish trim.
I wrote then:
Despite the distance of the years, the old-time gospel music still came back easily for Mr. Leidy.
"Christ -- for -- me, yes it's Christ -- for -- me," Mr. Leidy sang. "He's my savior, my Lord and king; I'm so happy I shout and sing."
Mr. Leidy had positive views of the Altoona crusade. He confirmed news accounts of the time that reported significant numbers of converts going forward. But he also learned afterward that Rev. Graham faced strong opposition from some clergy, both local and from the outside, and dissension among Altoona clergy.
The event doesn't seem to have been the disaster that it is remembered as in Graham lore. But this was also a time when Graham was going through his painful break with fellow evangelist Charles Templeton, a star preacher increasing in doubt about the Christian faith he would later abandon.
Here's a link to the story I did at the time.
And here's a link to his obituary, which also tells of his work on behalf of historic preservation at the Lakemont Park amusement park.