The Tucson Symphony Orchestra is mourning the loss of two of its musicians who died this week.
Longtime bass player Richard Leek died on Tuesday after suffering an apparent heart attack. He was 63. Violist Rebecca Son, who played with the symphony since 2006, died early Thursday after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 54.
Leek was having lunch in the teachers lounge at Alice Vail Middle School around noon Tuesday when he collapsed, said his brother, Robert Leek. Richard Leek had come out of retirement from the Tucson Unified School District to teach orchestra at the school.
Leek’s death came as a surprise to his brother, who described Leek as being “as healthy as he’s been in years and years.”
“He had a lot of energy and he was really enjoying teaching this year. He was just a happy guy,” Leek said.
“He lost an amazing amount of weight. (His death) was extremely, extremely sudden,” added Matthew Vera, whom Leek had taken in as a foster son when Vera was 14. “He was the happiest person you would ever meet. He was that guy who said hello to everybody and always had a smile on his face. He was extremely caring, giving and selfless.”
Richard Leek was born on Oct. 17, 1949, in Little Falls, N.Y., the second son of Ellen and Robert Leek. The family moved to Tucson in 1957, and Leek attended Alice Vail and Rincon High School, where he played bass in the orchestra.
He joined the TSO when he was 18 and a freshman at the University of Arizona, where he earned his bachelor of music degree. He received his master’s degree in music education from Central Connecticut University before embarking on a long teaching career with TUSD.
In addition to playing with the TSO, Leek was principal bass for the Tucson Pops Orchestra and played with the Tucson Repertory Orchestra.
But friends and colleagues say the biggest joy in Leek’s life was his role as a foster father.
“He was a much happier person when he became a foster parent,” said Rebecca Cain, a former TSO musician who is now the orchestra’s artistic production and personnel chief. “It awakened this whole new side of him.”
Leek took in Vera and encouraged the violin protege. Vera, now 22, said Leek’s influence led to him to land a full scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music.
He is starting his senior year there this fall and has performed at prestigious festivals throughout the country, including at this summer’s Tanglewood Festival in Massachusetts.
“He made it very possible for me to realize my dreams. It’s very difficult to get to this level of musicianship. I’m sure I would have played, but I’m not sure I would have gone this far,” said Vera, who said he considers Leek to be his father.
Over the years, Leek took in several foster sons including Hector Elias, who was living with Leek at the time of his death. Elias, a budding violist who graduated last May from Canyon del Oro High School, is taking classes at Pima Community College and also plans to pursue music as a career.
In addition to his brother, mother and foster sons, Leek is survived by his sister-in-law, Shelley Leek of Tucson. Services are pending.
• • •
Rebecca “Sunny” Son came to the TSO in 2006 from the Pasadena Symphony, where she had performed from 1983 to 2006 while moonlighting on violin and viola with the Antelope Valley Symphony.
She continued her musical multitasking when she arrived in Tucson, performing with the Tucson Pops Orchestra in its parks concert series in the fall and spring. She also taught music, Cain said.
“She was always sunny and always on the go. She would run in the door and run back out again,” Cain said.
Son earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from California Institute of the Arts.
Cain said Son moved to Sahuarita for her husband’s job.
“She brought a lot of happiness to the viola section,” Cain said. “People loved her. She was one of those people who was always positive.”
Cain said Son was diagnosed with cancer last spring. Cain, who played bassoon with the TSO, and many of Son’s musical friends performed in the annual Music & Memories Concert last May to help her cover her medical expenses.
Son is survived by her husband, Robert Boland, of Sahuarita.