LEYDEN, John Thomas “Big John”, 87, of Coventry and Florida, passed away surrounded by his loving family on Sunday, December 23, 2018. He was the beloved husband of 62 years to Arlene (Moan) Leyden.
Born in East Greenwich, he was a son of the late Matthew J. and Mary (Pryor) Leyden.
John believed in God, Family and Country. His greatest joy was his family. He served in Korea where he earned the rank of Sergeant in the US Army. Taking advantage of the GI Bill he attended URI where he met the love of his life, Arlene. He went on to teach Agricultural Education and the FFA (Future Farmers of America) at Scituate Junior Senior High School. John taught for 30 years and impacted countless lives through his award-winning programs as an educator, coach and mentor, where he was fondly known as Chief. He received the RI Teacher of the year award in 1975.
He and his wife purchased 100 acres in West Greenwich, RI and started Big John Leyden’s Christmas Tree Farm in 1974. With his larger than life personality he became a national spokesperson for real trees and appeared on The CBS Early Show for 18 years. He became famous for his opening line WELCOME, WELCOME, WELCOME and Real Trees for Real People.
He was very honored to be selected to the East Greenwich Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996 and the East Greenwich Wall of Fame in 2009. Both John and Arlene were avid golfers and members of the Golf Harbor Golf Club in Fort Myers, FL.
Besides his wife, he leaves two sons, Matthew W. Leyden and his wife Mary of East Greenwich and J. Timothy Leyden and his wife Barbara of Coventry; two sisters, Margaret “Peggy” Lundberg of Sauderstown and Joan Bezak of Narragansett; 5 grandchildren, Matthew J. Leyden, Erin Leyden-Healey and husband John, Meghan (Leyden) Andrikos and husband Dean, Sean Charles Leyden and Dylan Thomas Leyden and two great-grandsons Owen and Jack. Preceding him are his brother Russell Leyden, sister Cathleen “Pieraccini” Erba, and brother Robert Leyden.
Visitation will be held Friday morning December 28, 2018 from 8:00 – 10:15 am in the IANNOTTI Funeral Home, 415 Washington St. (Rte.117), Coventry, with a Mass of Christian Burial at 11:00 am in SS. John & Paul Church, Coventry. Interment with Military Honors will follow in the RI Veterans Cemetery, Exeter. In lieu of flowers, donations to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (StJude.org) would be appreciated.