By Chandra Harris-McCray
If it had not already been on another Vol fan’s vehicle, Marianne Leech’s license plate would read like part of her e-mail address: tnvol. Although she never earned a degree from the University of Tennessee, Leech was born a Vol, a birthright she inherited from her parents Walter Lee and Mary Morris.
As the owner of motion picture theaters in Knoxville and surrounding areas, Walter, who attended UT from 1924 to 1926, took great pride in hauling film equipment to the football field to record the Volunteers’ practices and games, dating back to the General Robert Neyland era.
For Marianne, growing up in Knoxville translated to growing up in Big Orange Country. “My mother and father would get on the train and travel to football games all over the country,” she recalls. “The love for UT and its football program has always been there by osmosis for me because I grew up in it.”
She passed the contagious Vol spirit on to her husband, John Leech, a native of Pittsburgh and alumnus of Robert Morris University and the University of Pittsburgh. His blood now runs orange, so much so that one would never know he did not grow up in Knoxville. The Leeches live in Loudon, Tennessee.
On game days, the couple act as a virtual scoreboard for Marianne’s brother, Lee (Knoxville ’62), and his wife, Peggi (an alumna of East Tennessee State University), who live in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. When the native East Tennessee couple cannot see the game, “We become their eyes and ears,” Marianne says. “We call them every ten minutes if we have to so they know the score. We are a Vol family, no matter where we are.”
Game days account for only part of the passion Marianne and John feel for Tennessee athletics. At the heart of their gifts to athletics are scholarships for student–athletes. “We have a profound desire to give back to a cause that has brought us so much joy over the years,” they say.
“Student–athletes have a golden opportunity to play the sport they love and gain an education. Without the athletic opportunities and scholarships at the University of Tennessee, many of these kids would never have a chance to attend college, let alone one as prestigious as UT.
“Everyone needs to support our university no matter how little or how big the amount. These contributions make a difference in the lives of our kids and ensure that young people have a chance to further their education and promote their success.”
The Leeches say life has been good to them, and it is only right that they give back. “Neither of us have degrees from the University of Tennessee, but we believe in the university, its mission, its students, and their futures.”