I just received the stunning news that Mark Leon, the force behind the NASA Robotics Alliance project, has finished his mission. Mark was my boss in 1999 when he asked me to mentor a team. Best guy I ever worked for. I won’t forget him, and I promise to “Do the math.” With Mark and my friend the late Joe Hering, it always “the kids come first,” which kept us going when dealing with the hurdles in our path. I will miss his blue hair and shoulder rolls.
A large reason why I felt like FRC was cool when I was just getting started. I got to sit next to him on the flight to St Louis in 2014, and definitely learned a lot and was well entertained. Very glad I got to know him, and I can’t thank him enough for everything. Condolences to his family, a life well lived.
On a different note, the OP was really well written.
I’ve been fortunate to see Mark at some events before his adventure/stay to Columbia. Hearing him say “Do the math, save the world!” was something that I always took to heart from Mark and would say to the students on my team in recent seasons. He has been an inspiration to many students near and far.
RIP Mark Leon and thank you for your amazing legacy.
Mark has been an icon in FIRST. I remember his great MC work at the early days of Arizona Regionals, to say nothing of what he has done for the program on the NASA end and working directly with teams. He is part of what I thought was so cool about this program all those years ago as a student, with his iconic blue hair and theatrics on the center stage. Shocking to hear he is gone.
My condolences to his family, friends, and all the teams he has worked with.
Mark emceed the first event I attended as a student with my rookie team and then was again on our field at Champs that year. The guy with the blue hair made a lasting impression on us, by energizing and making the event great fun. Thanks for making FIRST special and RIP.
Mark is one of the reasons that our team exists today. He was an inspirational figure to my friends and I during our time as students. Mark always remembered our team and always took some time to say hi when he ran into us at competition. In 2009 he even came by our school and gave a presentation about Mars rovers. I gave him a ride to the airport and the headrest of my mom’s car was stained blue for months.
If FIRST is about inspiration, then Mark Leon was as FIRST as it can get. It doesn’t seem right that he should be gone.
I grew up with Mark as our MC at the Sacramento regional. He was always excited to be at the event and full of contagious energy. He has and will continue to leave a lasting and profound impact in FRC and will be remembered by so many of us.
It is only now that I have truely noticed that he was not around this season, I had assumed that he was off on some important adventure. Mark made the world a better place just by moving through it and I am sad that more people won’t get to know him like so many of us have.
I remember when I first started watching regional webcasts as a 6 year old many years ago. Mark was always the SVR guy and MC I associated with California that I looked forward to watching with his energy and wackiness. He also is someone I credit with providing inspiration to me to go out and become a GA in the Northeast. If I am able to convey half the energy he did, I will consider myself to be successful.
I was lucky enough to have one conversation with him over facebook a while back to thank him for the inspiration and all that he does. His reply was simply:
“It is a job of the heart and the spirit! Its not about us, its about them and what they can become.”
Those words still resonate with me today. Even though I never directly met him in person, he had such an impact on me. I can’t even imagine how many lives he has impacted out in the CA and general FIRST communnity. He was and still is an inspiration to many.
The emcees of the Championship events from 2004-2007 are who I consider to be my role models. Each had their own style, and I always loved seeing Mark in his blue NASA apparel. I had no clue what he did when I was I high school student, all I knew was that he was involved with NASA, and having him at FIRST events was cool. He was entertaining, did jump kicks, somersaults, this isn’t how I imagined personalities at NASA. I wanted to be Mark Leon.
In 2012 I emceed a FIRST LEGO League World Invitational in Florida. Mark came as mentor to a Colombian team, Rovolution. I was starstruck when he stood next to me as I announced his team’s match, so of course I said
"“This is the reason we do the calculations.
This is the premise for the equation formulas.
I think what I am saying is… This is why we do the math.”
Saddened to hear of Mark’s passing. Mark had no limit to the amount of energy he brought to events and has touched countless lives. Mark was typically my analogy of a rocket scientist: On the surface was borderline crazy yet you knew that he was an incredibly smart and passionate man who loved what he did and helped bring a tremendous impact to thousands.
In the FRC community it seems that everyone that knew Mark always had at least 2-3 crazy stories of their interactions with him. I had the privilege of emceeing with him at championships for several years and from crazy meditation sessions on top of field crates, to building a car out of Legos during a meeting, Mark never failed to surprise anyone.
In 2006, one of our drive team members made up a hand gesture that formed our team number. Since then, it’s become something our drive team does before every match when we’re called.
I remember during Stronghold, when Mark came to visit SVR, him dropping through the pits to meet all the teams. Without a second’s delay, he greeted our team and broke out the hand signal, which made our students beam at being known.
He always nailed the little things. He always knew the history and culture of every team, and was a walking encyclopedia of all things FIRST.
People like that aren’t common, and I’m glad to see how much we all cherish the impact, lives changed, and overall positive effect Mark had on this crazy thing we’re all a part of.
There is no one else like Mark. He left an indelible mark on the students that passed through this program.
Just last summer we had a reunion of students that were on our team in HS a decade ago, and someone mentioned how much they loved the announcer “With the blue hair.” Then everyone in the room started yelling “It’s time to do the math.” I don’t think anyone really remembered how we did at the events back then, but EVERYONE remembered Mark.
He truly loved this stuff and it is sad to hear of his passing.
Mark is one of those few people that simply cannot be forgotten. He was an inspiration to all those that he came into contact.
In our first year in Las Vegas, Skunk Works had a good tournament and qualified for Atlanta, I, personally, couldn’t see a way for us to get there as it was just a few days away. Mark’s enthusiasm and efforts focused the team and through the efforts of the parents, mentors and NASA we found a way to get there.
This was the single turning point in the creation of our team and something I cannot forget or ever pay back in full.
I am sure our story is just one of hundreds of others in which Mark enriched and inspired both students and mentors to be more than they thought they could be.
It is hard to express the grief we feel when a person is physically lost to your “family”. I can only say that Mark truly lived the life of a stellar example of what FIRST is all about.
He will be missed but his legacy will live on in the lives of all those he touched.
I remember watching Mark at the Nationals (yes it was called that back then) and watching him run around the field and genuniely enjoyed doing what he was doing was what made me want to go into the Announcer/Master of Ceremonies role.
Then after graduating high school and approaching him at Championships in Atlanta I told him my story and asked for a picture. He graciously posed, and talked to me about how to have the most fun volunteering.
Every time I saw him afterwards (which was at most once a year) he always remembered my name and stopped to say hi. I owe my post high school FIRST volunteering career to him and who knows where I would be if he hadn’t spent that time talking to me.
I have lots of great memories of Mark from his days emceeing AZ and Vegas regionals and NURC. We bumped into him one year at an I-Hop during the Arizona regional and he hung out with our team and spent about an hour doing math. He’ll always be the best.