Leon McKinley Cochrane Sr., 93, who in 1968 became the first African-American elected to the Beacon school board and later served as its president, died Oct. 6, 2019 in Apex, North Carolina.
Born in Brockway, New York, on Oct. 4, 1926, he was the youngest and last surviving child of Frank and Lulu (Palmore) Cochrane. As a child, he suffered from poliomyelitis and was unable to walk for some time. But he was a star athlete at Beacon High School and played baseball with local teams into his 70s.
After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict (he said he was stationed in Germany instead of Korea because he missed a bus), Leon earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Howard University, where he was named “the brain” of his graduating class.
At Howard, he met Mary Jo Alice Dula, from Hickory, North Carolina, and they were wed in 1954. They were married for 36 years before her death.
After graduating, Leon was hired by IBM as its fifth black engineer (his brother, Harry Cochrane, was the first). He was a senior associate engineer and worked on semiconductors back when digital technology was in its infancy. He retired after 35 years with the company.
Leon had a lifelong passion for sports, particularly baseball. He was a die-hard Yankees fan but also a fan of the Giants and Knicks. He loved music and sang and played the tenor saxophone. (He said that he was once offered the opportunity to travel with a jazz band but did not want to leave his family.)
He is survived by his children: Leon Cochrane Jr. of Philadelphia; Sandra Blakney (Ben) of Cary, North Carolina; Karen Cochrane-Brown (Ed Brown) of Cary; and Alan Dula (Willardean) of Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and his grandchildren, LaTrinda Williams, Lakisha Dula, Ariel Cochrane-Brown, Jared Blakney, Jasen Blakney and Joseph Cochrane-Brown.
Memorial donations may be made to the National Society of Black Engineers’ summer SEEK program (nsbe.org), which introduces third to fifth graders to science, math and engineering.
He will repose from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 14, at the Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church, 139 Main St., in Beacon, with final visitation at 10 a.m. on Oct. 15. A funeral service at 11 a.m. will be followed by interment at Fishkill Rural Cemetery.