I’m not the first journalist to go looking for Leo Randolph Sr.
“I did a few along the way,” Randolph, now 58, says of being interviewed.
Indeed, the 1976 Olympic gold medal boxer is no stranger to telling his story. Because it’s a good one.
It’s a story that begins in a boxing ring at the Boys & Girls Club, at the age of 9, here in Tacoma.
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It’s a story that’s highlighted by a split-decision victory in Montreal 40 years ago, earning the first of a collection of gold medals for U.S. Olympic boxing’s 1976 “Dream Team” — a squad that included Sugar Ray Leonard and the Spinks brothers.
It’s a story that includes a short stint as the World Boxing Association super bantamweight champion, a title Randolph earned — and held for a matter of months — in 1980. After losing the title to Argentina's Sergio Palma, Randolph retired in his prime, at the age of 22, with a professional record of 17-2.
It’s a story that includes years of volunteer service, both at the Boys & Girls Club in Tacoma and at Remann Hall, where every Tuesday night he cuts the hair of the teens who find themselves at the juvenile jail.
“Christianity is my No. 1 thing,” he says.
For the last 28 years, it’s a story that’s seen Randolph behind the wheel of a Pierce Transit bus, greeting passengers, as he was last Thursday on a route in Puyallup.
And, on Saturday, it’s a story that will see Randolph serve as the community grand marshal for the 83rd annual Daffodil Festival parade.
Finding Randolph isn’t hard, because he arrives on time — precisely when the Pierce Transit schedule said he would steer the route 425 Puyallup connector bus into the South Hill Mall Transit Center.
His smile’s hard to miss.
I try to get along with people. I try to be a people person, because what goes around comes around.
Leo Randolph Sr.
“I try to get along with people,” Randolph tells me when I ask about his disposition. “I try to be a people person, because what goes around comes around.”
Of his chosen profession, Randolph explains simply: “I like driving.”
Randolph keeps his gold medal tucked away in an understated black case, adorned with the classic ‘70s era Olympic logo that Georges Huel designed for the Montreal games . He doesn’t take it out much, he says, except when guys like me want to see it.
Randolph is even kind enough to let me hold the medal. It’s heavier than it looks.
Four decades have passed since Randolph won gold in Montreal and came back to Tacoma an Olympic champion. He returned not just to a hero’s welcome, and the Al Davies Boys & Girls Club, where he put in the hours of tireless training, but to school.
Just 18, Randolph flew back before the games’ closing ceremony to resume classes at Wilson High School.
“It was extremely overwhelming. Just excitement,” Randolph says of coming home, a valiant return that included a day in his honor at his school, and another bestowed by proclamation of Tacoma’s mayor at the time, Mike Parker.
“Everything was gold and glitter,” he says. “It was a whole new experience.”
Randolph lives in Spanaway and has a 34-year-old son who shares his name and also drives bus for Pierce Transit.
He’ll be one of three grand marshals during Saturday’s parade, along with grand marshal Miesha Tate, the UFC women’s bantamweight champion; and honorary grand marshal Bill Sterud, chairman of the Puyallup Tribe.
“We feel like his story is phenomenal,” Daffodil Festival Executive Director Steve James says of Randolph’s selection as community grand marshal. “Honest to goodness, when they brought Leo and his story to us, I don’t know that we even considered anyone else.”
We feel like his story is phenomenal. ... Honest to goodness, when they brought Leo and his story to us, I don’t know that we even considered anyone else.
Daffodil Festival Executive Director Steve James on Randolph’s section as community grand marshal
True to his humble personality, Randolph credits his coworkers — and specifically Pierce Transit’s Brentt Mackie, Debra Bicknell and Marvino Gilliam — with mounting the campaign that resulted in him being named the Daffodil Parade’s community grand marshal. Pierce Transit also plans to celebrate Leo Randolph Day on May 16.
(A day after I chat with him about the honors, Randolph calls just to make sure I have the correct spelling of their names. While we’re on the phone, he also asks me to please include mention of his parents and his daughter, Moriah.)
“That was 40 years ago,” Randolph says of the gold medal performance that will be remembered during this year’s Daffodil Festival. “I was like, ‘Why would they want to see me out there?
“I was surprised, I was excited and I’m still excited. … I’m thankful.”
In truth, we should be thankful for Randolph. This Saturday, he’ll be perched on a Daffodil Festival parade float waving to the lines of onlookers, many too young to remember his Olympic accomplishment.
Then, just as he has for so many years, he’ll quietly return to his life and his bus — looking out for his family and coworkers, volunteering his time at the Boys & Girls Club and Remann Hall and serving as an unassuming inspiration to many.
“I’m a server,” Randolph says. “I’m going to try to serve.”