Carolyn Smith Corsi ’83 hung up the telephone and tried not to grin as she delivered the news to her roommate, Kathryn Thompson Leckie ’83. It was their senior year at Virginia Tech and Corsi had just learned that a Virginia Tech Collegiate Times exposé that Leckie wrote had been picked up by The Associated Press.
Leckie was ecstatic. To have The Associated Press choose her investigative story on the fairness of weight limits for cheerleaders surpassed her undergraduate journalism goals.
Corsi, a member of the Virginia Tech cheering squad, experienced a complicated joy for her friend. Leckie’s feature included her comments from a conversation between the two communication majors. Corsi said with laughter in her voice that this was how she learned the value of noting what information is not for public knowledge, especially when talking to friends who are writers.
Cheerleading was a familiar subject to Leckie, who had cheered while at Thomas Dale High School in Chester, Virginia. But she did not allow her own fondness for the activity to overshadow her advocacy for equal consideration for all who wished to cheer, regardless of their weight.
To help others through truthful reporting became the cornerstone of her lifelong journalism career, remembered Mike Anderson ’83, a high school friend of Leckie who also majored in communication at Virginia Tech.
Leckie’s dedication to journalism is the inspiration for a new scholarship in her name.
“Her unwavering commitment to journalism and telling stories that were fair and good for the community needs to be remembered,” said Anderson. “Kathryn was someone who never gave up on that profession. It was her calling.”
Leckie’s employment as an investigative journalist began with the Richmond Times-Dispatch and extended to the Charlottesville Daily Progress and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The Frederick News-Post in Maryland was the final print newspaper for which she worked. Her writing reflected both the positive aspects of humanity and the more negative issues prevalent in society, such as drunken driving, child abuse, and domestic violence.
After an illness, Leckie died on February 19, 2012, and was interred at the Columbarium at Virginia Tech.
During her memorial service in Chester, Corsi and Anderson conceived the idea of commemorating Leckie at Virginia Tech.
“We immediately thought we needed to honor her,” Corsi said. “She was so lively and enthusiastic that her memory needed to live on.”
Corsi, along with Leckie’s family and friends, started the Kathryn Thompson Leckie Memorial Scholarship. To facilitate these efforts, Anderson began a Facebook group, networked with other Virginia Tech alumni, and reached out to Leckie’s journalism connections.
Once their fundraising reached the endowment level, with encouragement from Leckie’s family, they pushed further. In December 2017, they reached their goal of raising enough money to establish a named scholarship in Leckie’s memory.
“Having the scholarship in Kathryn’s name to honor her allows us as a family to know that she will never be forgotten,” said Alison Martin, one of Leckie’s sisters. “Kathryn’s altruism lives as her spirit lives. I think of the scholarship as an extension of Kathryn, much like you hear about with organ-donor families. I haven’t met the scholarship recipient, yet I feel connected to her.”
Multimedia journalism majors are eligible for this merit-based scholarship. A preference is given to those who work within the student media organizations at Virginia Tech, such as the Collegiate Times, or who have completed at least one internship.
Corsi and Anderson said it was the Collegiate Times that created Leckie’s passion for journalism and they hope that the scholarship will help keep ethical journalism alive.
In May 2018, Gretchen Kernbach, a multimedia journalism major active with the Collegiate Times and Virginia Tech Television, became the first recipient of the Kathryn Thompson Leckie Memorial Scholarship.
“I am truly honored to be recognized for my hard work by the family of someone who contributed so much to the journalism field,” said Kernbach, a rising senior from Centreville, Virginia, who is now general manager of Virginia Tech Television. Like Leckie, she credits the Collegiate Times for its powerful influence.
“The Collegiate Times gave me a voice when I felt like I didn’t have one,” she said. “The happiness I got from seeing my work published and receiving feedback from my peers is something I want to see in my future. The opportunity to tell a compelling story and give a voice to those who do not have one is something the newspaper allowed me to do, and I plan on continuing the same kind of work.”
Written by Leslie King