Stephen Leitch loved music.
In 2001 he was on the cutting edge of computer music production. He had a promising future ahead and planned to study computers at college.
With all this going for him, his family still wonders why the then-18-year-old took his life.
The Leitch family has taken this tragedy and turned it into a way to remember and honour Stephen’s memory while helping promising students.
While Stephen worked really hard in school, his minor learning disability didn’t allow him to excel. He always enjoyed playing and listening to music.
In Grade 11 he was placed in the home room of the music teacher and joined the Music Program at Miles MacDonell Collegiate. This opened a whole new world to him.
“For the first time Stephen found something at school he really liked doing,” says Stephen’s father Don Leitch. “He just loved the Music Program: the creation of music, people performing, people singing… and he was into music mixing – the computer aspect.”
Stephen particularly loved rock and roll from the ’50s and ’60s – a passion Mr. Leitch says started before Stephen was even in Kindergarten.
One day as a young boy, Stephen called his family into the living room, Mr. Leitch remembers fondly. He had set up his Fisher Price cassette recorder next to the piano.
“He said, ‘Watch this!’ and he hit play and it was Jerry Lee Lewis with “Great Balls of Fire.” [Stephen] was pretending he was Jerry Lee Lewis… with his phenomenal antics. Stephen was sitting on the piano stool and his little legs were just dangling and kicking faster than the music.”
As Stephen got older, he’d mix music on the computer and make compilations for friends and family. He had planned to study computers at Red River College.
Stephen was just weeks away from graduation and his passing was totally unexpected, Mr. Leitch says.
“The child psychiatrists say occasionally there can be absolutely no signs of the indicators that can lead children or youth into considering suicide or actually taking the final step.”
When Stephen died, after paying for the funeral and other expenses, the family had a small amount of money left over from an insurance policy. Mr. Leitch and his wife Betty wanted a way to remember and honour Stephen.
“It was our two other children, Andrew and Rae, who said, ‘Maybe we should do something at Miles Mac for Stephen,’” Mr. Leitch says.
Stephen’s passion for musical arts led the family to create the Stephen Leitch Music Award Fund. The scholarship is issued annually to a Grade 12 Miles Mac student who shows enthusiasm, commitment, energy, spontaneity and pure joy in field of music.
Miles Mac and River East School Division moved quickly to establish the award, and the first scholarship was issued just a few weeks after his death.
Miles Mac and the School Division managed the fund for a number of years, but since it was held in a general account there was very little interest earned. As the scholarships were distributed year-after-year, the capital began to erode.
The family wanted a more permanent option, so they moved the fund to The Winnipeg Foundation. “It’s forever, as The Foundation says,” Mr. Leitch notes.
“The Winnipeg Foundation has an exemplary track record of running these programs,” says Mr. Leitch, who is CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba. “Once you’ve made the decision and you’ve made the contribution there’s no further issue. You can just enjoy what you’ve done. You don’t do the work. You don’t have to worry about connecting the dots and deadlines. It’s just done. It’s simple.”
This year marked the 15th anniversary of Stephen’s passing – and it’s the 15th time a promising young student received the Stephen Leitch Music Award. Someone from the Leitch family attends the awards ceremony each year to hand out the scholarship, and although it’s a “melancholy moment,” it feels good to see Stephen’s life is making a difference.
“In some small way this is his contribution back into the Music Program that gave him joy,” Mr. Leitch says.
“It’s given us satisfaction, it’s given us some peace, and it’s a happy moment when we’re able to attend and give out the award in Stephen’s name.”