Cover photo for Leo Millard Glahn's Obituary
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1938 Leo 2023

Leo Millard Glahn

July 13, 1938 — October 22, 2023

Leo Millard Glahn, aged 85, passed away unexpectedly on October 22, 2023, after bravely battling a prolonged medical condition. A beloved resident of Bainbridge Island for over two decades, Leo is survived by his devoted wife of 42 years, Sherry Glahn (née Walker), and their two daughters, Genevieve Glahn and Gabrielle McRae (née Glahn), son-in-law Trenton (Trent) McRae, two granddaughters, Eleanor and Olivia (McRae), and sister Sandra Wagner (née Glahn).

In attempting to capture Leo's extraordinary life, this tribute extends beyond the usual brevity of such reflections as his experiences and impact defy conventional constraints, necessitating a more expansive biography to do justice to the legacy he leaves behind.

Born in Kingston, Pennsylvania, on July 13, 1938, Leo spent his boyhood learning to be ruggedly self-reliant and keenly problem-solve. He credited much of his development of these skills—fundamental to his character and adventurous life—to his participation in the Boy Scouts of America. Joining the BSA at age 14, Leo achieved the remarkable feat of advancing to Eagle Scout and being inducted into the Order of the Arrow in under two years, a testament to his dedication and prowess in Scouting.

After graduating high school in 1956, Leo enlisted in the US Navy. Embarking on active duty later that same year, he was deployed from Norfolk, Virginia, to the Mediterranean Sea aboard the destroyer USS Stormes, serving alongside a 134-vessel NATO task force. As a Fire Control Technician, he honed valuable navigational and electrical skills. He discharged from active duty in 1959 to pursue a college degree and transitioned to the Naval Reserve, continuing for an additional six years. Serving his country remained one of Leo's proudest accomplishments throughout his life.

Leo joined his older brother, William (Bill) Glahn, at Tri-State College (now Trine University) in Angola, Indiana, where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering in 1963. While at Tri-State, Leo, alongside Bill, obtained his ham radio operator license, marking the beginning of a hobby that forged unique friendships across the globe. While taking his final exams in his senior year, Leo caught the attention of the Oasis oil consortium in Libya, leading to a swift recruitment. After graduation, he packed his bags and traveled 8,000 miles to Tripoli, decisively embracing his new life abroad. Leo became known as the "Real-Life Indiana Jones" among many who crossed paths with him.

As a telecommunications engineer at Oasis, Leo spent his first year in Libya working solo in the desert, living in an equipment trailer at a remote site requiring a 155-mile round-trip trek to obtain drinking water. Single sideband radio was his only way to communicate with Oasis operations in Tripoli. Although he only spoke English upon arriving in Libya, by the end of that first desert assignment, Leo was proficient in Arabic, a language he learned out of logistical necessity, but motivated more by his sincere desire to befriend and learn from the people around him.

During his time with Oasis, Leo went from working on microwave links alone in the desert to being integral in constructing what was, at the time, the world's longest Lenkurt 71F 2-GHz microwave communications system. He was responsible for its engineering, mechanical drawings, and equipment ordering. He climbed towers, hung transmission lines, and designed diesel generator electric power plants for the microwave stations. While an invaluable experience, Leo preferred more collaborative approaches. He firmly believed projects flourish when fueled by the diverse knowledge, skills, and efforts of groups of individuals, emphasizing the crucial role of effective teamwork.

The 1969 Libyan Revolution significantly changed the country's business landscape and presented escalating safety concerns. In response, Leo made a pivotal career move in 1972, departing Libya to join the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco; now Saudi Aramco) as a construction engineer. At age 34, his work with Aramco began in Ras Tanura, and he would remain with the company until his retirement 22 years later.

In the early stages of his time at Aramco, Leo oversaw the commissioning and construction of a 400,000-barrel crude oil stabilization plant at the Ras Tanura Refinery. Later, he was relocated to Dhahran, where he led the design, engineering, and construction of a cutting-edge telecommunications facility. While there, Leo founded the Engineering and Construction Division within Aramco's Communications Department and assumed the role of its inaugural supervisor. In 1975, Aramco formed a new Project Management Department to develop facilities and infrastructure to recover and process gas previously wasted during flaring. Leo was crucial in expanding communication facilities to enable these extensive construction efforts and the subsequent operation of the new gas processing system.

On May 11, 1977, Leo was thrust into disaster when a pipeline ruptured underground in the Abqaiq oil field, igniting a fire that ultimately resulted in one fatality and 13 injuries. The flames quickly engulfed every section of what was, at the time, the world's largest petroleum processing plant. Two days later, he was among the 7,000 employees working around the clock to extinguish the still-burning fires and rebuild and restore operations when one of the gas-oil separation plants exploded. In an act of extreme bravery, Leo, along with another Aramco engineer, ran into the blazing plant to assist confused and trapped workers, including rescuing an unconscious man by throwing him out of a ditch. Whenever Leo recounted these events, he emphasized his pride in everyone's collective efforts during those dangerous days, modestly downplaying his direct role in saving the lives of dozens of individuals.

Leo's experiences exemplify reality is often more incredible than fiction. His stories—always legendary, often hilarious, and sometimes harrowing—consistently featured a cast of exceptional individuals, underscoring Leo's tendency to highlight the remarkable achievements of others, and the Abqaiq fire is an excellent example of this. Among all his fantastic adventures, though, the Real-Life Indiana Jones undoubtedly regarded his time spent with family and friends as the most fulfilling and cherished aspect of his life.

In 1981, Leo married the love of his life, Sherry, and they began their 42-year-long journey together. Leo would playfully declare to Sherry, "Mrs. G, the light of my life, sun of my day, star of my night." He loved dancing with her to George Straight's music, whether on a dancefloor, in their kitchen, or aboard their boat. On Valentine’s Day this year, Leo was asked what advice he would give regarding love, relationships, and marriage. His response highlights what he held most dear and offers timeless wisdom for everyone: "Don’t let a day go by without telling your one and only how much they are not only loved but appreciated."

Sherry and Leo were blessed with two daughters, Gabrielle and Genevieve, and one of Leo's greatest joys in life was fatherhood. He adored his daughters and delighted in imparting his knowledge, from operating power tools to sewing buttons Navy-style. He took immense pride in witnessing them evolve into unique, confident women. Leo's love extended warmly to his son-in-law, Trent, and in his endearing role of "Papa" to his granddaughters, Eleanor and Olivia. Additionally, Leo would fervently express, "I could not have asked for a better brother and sister," speaking of Bill and Sandra. He also held a special place in his heart for his sisters- and brother-in-law, Randi Walker and Bob and Ong Walker.

In 1994, Leo retired from Aramco and relocated his family to Sarasota, Florida, near his younger sister, Sandra, and his daughters' grandmother, Hermine. He devoted much of his newfound free time to being on the water with his family aboard his sailboat, Priority. During his time in Florida, Leo initiated the construction of a cottage in Comox, a beautiful town on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Leo and Sherry's ties to Comox originated from one of their best friends whose family has deep roots there. After developing a deep fondness for the area during visits many years prior, they decided to make it a lasting feature of their retirement. Nestled on the beach, Little River Cottage became a wonderful family retreat where they made lasting memories with friends. These included Leo's infamous birthday parties—humorously called "Annuals"—which commenced with his "First Annual 65th Birthday."

In 2000, Leo and his family moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington, across the Puget Sound from Seattle. Being close to Comox, they spent much more time at Little River Cottage. They also took advantage of living a ferry ride from excellent art museums and restaurants. Most of all, Leo and Sherry loved exploring the stunning waters of the Pacific Northwest. Upon moving to Bainbridge, they acquired a trawler, C'est La Vie, and spent many years taking her from the charming port towns of Puget Sound to the gorgeous San Juan Islands, even cruising as far north as rugged Desolation Sound in British Columbia. Leo greatly enjoyed the camaraderie of his boating companions in the Eagle Harbor Yacht Club and Marine Trawler Owners Association. One standout adventure took them from Bainbridge to Europe, where Leo, Sherry, and two dear friends navigated the canals of France—an experience Leo fondly described as among his all-time favorites. In 2019, Sherry and Leo found their dream boat, Sentindo Bem, and his family looks forward to continuing his mariner spirit by navigating Sentindo together.

A second-generation Master Mason and member of the Scottish Rite of the highest degree, Leo truly embodied the principles of Freemasonry, upholding their highest standards throughout his life. One of Leo's most outstanding qualities was his unwavering integrity, his moral compass always pointing true north. He demonstrated acceptance and respect for diverse cultures, beliefs, and opinions, choosing to regard individuals based on their character—traits such as honesty, tolerance, kindness, work ethic, and a willingness to learn.

Leo went above and beyond to assist others. He was loyal and generous, and he always honored his commitments. He extended people the benefit of the doubt, even when many would not. It is safe to say everyone who knew him has a "The time Leo helped me..." story to share.

Leo will be accorded a Naval Burial at Sea, a tribute to his lifelong love of the maritime and dedicated military service. In lieu of flowers, his family kindly requests you consider honoring Leo by donating to Shriner's Hospitals for Children, an organization he supported for decades, or to his alma mater, Trine University. The family welcomes you to share your favorite memories of Leo, either publicly on his Tribute Wall or privately, by sending your stories to Sherry, Gabrielle, or Genevieve.

Arrangements entrusted to Cook Family Funeral Home of Bainbridge Island, WA.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Leo Millard Glahn, please visit our flower store.


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