Leon Daggs, Jr.
Leon Daggs, Jr., one of the area's most prominent business leaders and philanthropists, passed away peacefully in his sleep early Friday morning, March 26, 2021, from brain cancer. He was 80 years old.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri on February 12, 1941, to Leon and Dorothy Daggs, he was the oldest of four children. He was educated at Star School in Crystal City, MO, and L'Ouverture Elementary School where he earned the distinction of graduating salutatorian of his eighth-grade class. He was the first of two black students to integrate Cleveland High School, in 1955. There, he excelled academically and athletically, played tuba in the band and bass fiddle in the orchestra, and was the first black student voted to the Student Council, in his senior year. Leon graduated in the top ten percent of his class and, following high school, enrolled in Harris Teacher's College (now Harris-Stowe State University) where he lettered in track & field and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Education. During the university's May 2017 commencement, he was one of the first two people to receive the inaugural Harriet Beecher Stowe Award – the university president's highest honor bestowed on alumni who have made outstanding contributions to the school, along with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. He established the Leon Daggs, Jr. Endowed Scholarship to assist his alma mater with providing opportunities for underrepresented youths in under-resourced communities.
An officer and a gentleman, Leon joined the United States Navy Reserve in Glenview, Illinois, after his senior year in high school. He graduated college in 1963 and, following a year of teaching middle school, he reported to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola for flight training on March 4, 1964, pioneering again, as one of the first blacks ever to become a Naval Aviation Officer Candidate. Upon graduation, he earned the rank of Lieutenant (junior grade) and served for nearly five years, including a tour aboard the USS Calcaterra. However, Pensacola also served as the place where Leon would meet the love of his life – a beautiful young woman named Saundra Stills, a co-ed at Florida A&M University. After a brief courtship, the couple became engaged and eventually married on April 19, 1965. To their union, a son named Christopher Leon Daggs was born on May 31, 1970.
Leon joined Ford Motor Company in 1971 as the company was looking to staff a brand new (Customer Service) division in Indianapolis, Indiana. He worked his way up the ranks from analyst to administrative manager before being promoted and relocating to Dearborn, Michigan. After nearly 15 years with the company, he began thinking about entering the Ford Dealer Development Program. With much prayer and an investment from his mother-in-law coupled with his own, he left Ford in December 1985 and by January of the next year became the proud dealer of Hub City Ford-Mercury in Crestview, Florida. Surviving slow market periods, economic downturns, recessions, and numerous financial challenges, he stayed the course and achieved full ownership in 1994. Armed with a keen business acumen, Leon owned multiple successful dealerships in Florida and Georgia, real estate holdings, and other investments. His commitment and impact on the automobile industry earned him awards from Chrysler and Ford Motor Company, the Minority Dealers Association, and many others, including ranking as one of Black Enterprise Magazine's Top 100 Automobile Dealers for more than 25 years reaching as high as number nine on the list. Prior to embarking on his Ford career, he was employed by Proctor & Gamble and McDonnell Douglas Electronics.
With his ever-present "attitude of gratitude," Leon never forgot where he came from and could often be found giving back to his community through the various organizations in which he held membership. He was a life member of both the NAACP and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. (Spr. '60). Organizations with which he held offices include Ford Lincoln-Mercury Minority Dealer Association (Board of Directors and Southeast Regional Manager), 100 Black Men of Pensacola (Vice President), Sigma Pi Phi (Boule') Delta Pi Charter Member, National Association of Guardsmen-Florida Chapter, CCB Community Bank (Florida Region) Board of Directors Chairman, and board member for Community Enterprise Investment Inc. (CEII), Pensacola.
Leon enjoyed spending time with family, attending or watching sporting events, golfing, and fishing – particularly on his many trips to Sitka, Alaska with his son. He was well traveled, both as a U.S. Navy Officer and civilian, having visited five continents – including Oceania, six Hawaiian Islands, various U.S. territories, and sailing numerous Mediterranean cruises.
A man of great faith, Leon accepted Christ at an early age and was baptized at Corinthian Baptist Church in St. Louis. He became Catholic, worshipped and was an active member at St. Engelbert Church (St. Louis), Holy Angels (Indianapolis), St. Beatrice (Detroit) and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Pensacola, where he was united in matrimony.
The devoted family patriarch is survived by his loving wife of nearly 56 years, Saundra; beloved son Christopher; grandchildren, C'Kristen, Chandler, Christopher Jr., and Jenna (step-granddaughter); siblings Brenda Daggs James, Marcella Daggs Woodson (Jerome), and Eric "Tony" (Holly); and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends. He was preceded in death by his parents.
A memorial service will be held on Thursday, April 15, 6:30 p.m., at Crestview Community Center. On Saturday April 17, at 10:30 a.m., a funeral mass will be held at St. Joseph. Due to COVID restrictions, a celebration of life will be announced at a later date.
Flowers may be sent to St. Joseph, 140 West Government Street, Pensacola, FL 32501. The family welcomes donations to the Leon Daggs, Jr. Endowed Scholarship at Harris-Stowe State University.
Published by The Crestview News Bulletin from Apr. 5 to Apr. 10, 2021.