All of us at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute are grieving the loss of Robert “Leo” York, 64, who passed away the morning of April 12. Leo just celebrated 39 years working on Winthrop Rockefeller’s former cattle ranch this March, and we are deeply saddened at the sudden loss of a one-of-a-kind colleague. He was incredibly dedicated, dependable, and an adept trickster – no one liked to come around the corner and surprise you with a big “boo!” more than Leo.

Leo began work on the mountain in 1982 for the Winrock International Livestock Research and Training Center. After merging with two other organizations in 1985, the Research and Training Center became Winrock International. Winrock moved their headquarters to Little Rock two decades later, but Leo and a few other employees remained on the mountain to help launch the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. The Institute was created in 2005 to further Winthrop Rockefeller’s legacy and assume caretaking of this historic slice of Petit Jean Mountain that was his home. Leo spent his entire career in the maintenance department, serving as the director since 2006.

“Leo was a foundational part of our Institute family,” Marta Loyd, Institute Executive Director/CEO, said. “He had the history and the steadfast dedication to Winthrop Rockefeller’s legacy. He had a unique relationship with every person at the Institute and with the many guests who came here to do good work. We will miss him terribly.” 

Multiple generations of Institute employees have worked under Leo; dozens of vendors and contractors learned about the Institute and lent us their expertise because of Leo; thousands of guests over the years have enjoyed our beautiful grounds and its many historical buildings because of Leo’s work. Leo lived in Mayflower, Arkansas, and drove to Petit Jean Mountain for 39 years because he loved what he did, he respected Winthrop Rockefeller’s good work and all the former Governor stood for, and he enjoyed his colleagues, most especially his maintenance crew. It cannot be overstated how acutely we miss him. 

Leo wasn’t one to talk very much, but he agreed to give an interview last fall after winning the 2020 Joel Smith Leadership Award — a recognition of his warm and loyal style of leadership.

“I try to take care of my people. They take care of me. I take pride in it — in my work, in my job, the Institute. It’s a joy to be here — I’ve always enjoyed being here. I enjoy the people I’m around.”

The entire Institute staff and board send their love and condolences to the tight-knit York family and all who knew Leo.

If you would like to make a gift to the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute in memory of Leo York, please visit the Institute’s online giving page and check the box “I would like to dedicate this gift.”

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