Tributes paid to popular former landlord of Brighton pubs

Dozens of people lined the streets of Lewes last week to bid farewell to the popular landlord of the Snowdrop Inn.

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 10:16 am

Tony Leonard, remembered as a bon viveur who was fiercely fond of pubs, passed away unexpectedly on April 2, at the age of 53.

His husband, Dominic McCartan, said: “He touched so many people in so many different ways.

“I always thought it was down to his bright and beaming smile, and the gentle sparkle behind his eyes.”

Tony Leonard has passed away at the age of 53

Tony’s lifelong passion for pubs was fated from the very start of his life.

Born in 1968 in Swansea, he spent his first 18 months living in The Scotch Pine, a pub run by his grandparents, where he was a ‘quite a fixture at the bar’.

“That formed the basis of his understanding of the role of a pub at the heart of the community,” Dominic said.

It was a pub where the couple first met – the Coopers Cask in Hove – and a pub where they got married ten years later, on 29 June 2011 at the Snowdrop Inn.

Tony's farewell procession through Lewes. Photo by Roz Bassford

Dominic said it was ‘a beautiful sunny day’ and ‘the best day of our lives’.

Together, the couple ran the Hop Poles in Brighton from 1999 to 2001, and the Eagle Bar and Bakery in Brighton from 2001 to 2012.

They took over the Snowdrop Inn in 2009, when it was in a poor state and on the verge of closing down.

Since then, they have transformed it into a thriving, multi-award winning pub, revitalising that corner of South Street.

Tony's farewell procession through Lewes. Photo by Roz Bassford

In 2015, they also took over the Roebuck Inn in Laughton, where the couple lived together, winning freehouse of the year for the business was ‘one of the pinnacle’s of Tony’s pub career’.

Tony was involved in organising beer festivals and also ran an alternative ‘Miss Snowdrop’ competition at the pub for several years.

He was a key member of the South Street bonfire association, whose home is at the Snowdrop Inn, and was ‘never happier’ than when an opportunity to dress up came along.

A passionate campaigner who was always keen to back the downtrodden and those without a voice, Tony was ‘fiercely fond of pubs’ and supportive of various groups.

Tony Leonard and Dominic McCartan at the pub

He was involved in the fair pint campaign and was invited to share his expertise in the pub industry at various conferences.

Over the years, Tony and Dominic enjoyed many adventures together – from sailing in the Mediterranean to indulging Tony’s love of food by learning to make tagliatelle al ragu in Bologna.

Tony was passionate about wildlife and nature, and many of their trips contained a conservation element – visiting a dolphin research project in the Ionian Sea, or working behind the scenes at a safari park in South Africa.

In in his spare time he enjoyed going on seaside walks with the couple’s beloved dogs.

A creative and artistic person, he loved writing and supported writing groups at the Snowdrop Inn – though he sadly never got the chance to finish his novel.

Tony was diagnosed with hemochromatosis last year, a hereditary condition in which too much iron builds up in the body, and sadly succumbed to side effects of the condition last month.

Tony's farewell procession through Lewes. Photo by Roz Bassford

He lay in state at the pub on Monday last week, so that visitors could pay their respects, and on Tuesday a cortège left the pub for a procession through the town.

People lined the streets as Tony made his way down South Street and up Cliffe High Street, before he was taken back to Swansea for a woodland burial.

Dominic said: “I was very taken by the huge number of people that made contact with me and who expressed their great sadness at our loss of Tony so suddenly and so young.”

On July 2, once coronavirus restrictions are lifted, a memorial event will be held at the Snowdrop Inn to ‘celebrate all things Tony’, with music, food, dancing, dressing up, poetry, readings and pets.

Tony's farewell procession through Lewes. Photo by Roz Bassford
Tony and Dominic on their wedding day
Tony and Dominic
Tony and Dominic
The Snowdrop Inn
Tony's farewell procession through Lewes. Photo by Roz Bassford
Walking the dogs
Tony Leonard