Leonard Ernest Oldwin Jr.
Sept. 19, 1953 - May 29, 2015
The "force of nature" known to many as Lenny Oldwin has died. He was 61.
Passionate and opinionated about everything including family, human rights, serving the poor, travel, food, the arts and politics, Leonard Ernest Oldwin, Jr., was born in Michigan, the third of four children of first-generation working-class immigrants. When he was 10, his family moved to California. He became independent at age 14 when his mother died: living alone, finishing high school while working as a short-order cook, surfing in the mornings and helping to care for his cherished little sister Lori.
Lenny loved adventure. He drove to Mexico with his first wife and was thrown in jail for something no one can quite remember. He bummed around Europe, living in a van. Returning home, he worked construction, and in bars; always with a camera and a book (he loved F. Scott Fitzgerald best). He raced sailboats, became a professional chef at restaurants and hotels in five states, and he began smoking his signature pipe.
In North Carolina, Lenny met his second wife Amy, and their son Nick was born. Lenny attended Western Carolina University (graduating with highest honors), and law school in California at McGeorge School of Law (University of the Pacific). He practiced criminal defense with Moe and Newman in Dixon; later, with close friend and colleague Barry Newman, he opened an office in Fairfield.
It was in Judge Luis Villarreal's courtroom that he met and fell in love with his third wife Nora, a deputy public defender. Newly remarried, he launched "Lenny's Deli" in Woodland, designing and constructing the space, developing the menu, and serving customers.
As a lawyer, Lenny proudly worked with his son, Nick, a criminal defense investigator, representing indigent, imprisoned and mentally ill clients. He challenged the status quo, and fought to change Solano jury selection procedure, resulting in fairer jury pools. He brought books to his younger clients, some of whom he introduced to his children.
A Davis resident since 1988, he was active in politics, putting his money where his mouth was when he believed in a cause. Nothing felt "impossible" for him. Lenny did things his way.
Amy wrote: "Life was a bit hard for Lenny, he lost his mother at a young age, his house burnt to the ground when he was a young man, he was married three times; he lost a baby son. But through it all he was able to find happiness. (He had the) kind of informed optimism that keeps you from being terribly foolish but allows you to believe in other people and have faith life was going to work out."
Community and family were huge for Lenny. He fostered the enduring friendship between his second and third wives; spent countless hours helping his kids with homework, coaching his sons' sports teams, and giving unconditional, selfless support to those who asked (sometimes even when they didn't ask). As Amy said: "Lenny surrounded himself with a wide array of friends and family. He embraced us all, loved us all, and was dearly, deeply loved by all of us."
Diagnosed with brain cancer in 2010 (and given a year to live), Lenny lived five more years. He faced his illness with courage and integrity; engaging with his doctors, directing his care, thinking outside-the-box. While ill, he lived fully, traveling to the Hawai'ian islands and New Zealand; skydiving with his son Nate, mastering an all-terrain wheelchair and visiting California's coast, a place he loved. He never gave up thinking he could "beat this"; and although the cancer finally killed him, he triumphed through his optimism, patience and expression of love for his family and friends. He died with tremendous dignity on May 29, 2015.
He is predeceased by a son, Zachary Solomon Oldwin, and survived by his beloved wife Nora, sons Nick and Nate, Nick's wife Ana, and grandsons Carlos and Jaiden; ex-wife Amy McGuire and her daughter Madolyn and their families; brothers Rod and Kenny and their families; sister Lori; and the Grinnel Drive neighborhood. His survivors are grateful to the staffs at Kaiser Foundation Hospital, USC and UCSF; to URC and to Yolo Hospice.
Every person should have the health care Lenny had; we must fight against income inequality so care is available to the most vulnerable regardless of their ability to pay. Donations in Lenny's memory may be made to the ACLU.
There will be a celebration of his life in September.