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Leon F. Willat

Leon F. Willat, a Marin County native, passed away on January 4, 2018, at the age of 99. He was born to Arnold F. and Hazel Willat of San Rafael on November 4, 1918. He and his three brothers, Irvin, Thoreau and Forrest grew up on D Street in San Rafael. Leon was the third of the four brothers.

Leon had a very mechanical mind and started building sailing boats at an early age to satisfy that creativity. He was sailing the bay by 1929; sailing was his passion for the rest of his life.

He joined the U.S. Army in October 1941 and served until 1946, attaining the rank of technical sergeant. He was stationed on Kanton Island in the South Pacific as a radar operator. He and his "band of brothers" endured many bombardments by Japanese ships as they passed through the area. Leon put his boat-building skills to work by building a small skiff and sailing out to a wrecked freighter that has run aground in the outer atoll. There he boarded the wrecked ship and removed many pieces of equipment that proved useful to the troops on the island. He was rotated stateside in 1943 and was given an instructor's job for troops heading into combat. He was stationed in Cheyenne, Wyo., until the war ended.

During his time in Cheyenne, his fiancée, Edith Falvey, who grew up across the street in San Rafael from Leon, made a four-day trip by train to Wyoming, where she was married to Leon on July 24, 1944. They remained married for 71 years until her passing in 2015.

After the war, Leon returned home and built his house in Mill Valley with the help of his family. He and Edith lived in that house for 65 years before relocating to Vacaville, Calif., to be near their daughter Lydia.

Leon worked in the cosmetics industry for many years, inventing an early model hair drier that beauty shops used. His father, Arnold F. Willat, invented the cold permanent wave, which is still used in the cosmetic industry. He was also a longtime member of the Richardson Bay Sanitary District board of directors, serving from 1976 to 2011.

He joined the San Francisco Yacht Club in the early '50s and sailed his boats and others for many years. In his later years, he was in great demand as a sailing tactician, and won a great many races. In a 1952 race, Leon was racing in the bay when he got word his wife was about to give birth to their third daughter, Lydia. Leon's boat crossed the finish line, winning the race. He was taken off the boat by the U.S. Coast Guard and delivered to San Francisco where arrived in time for Lydia's birth.

Leon and Edith loved to travel in their years together, visiting many places throughout the world. They took an around the world cruise in 1997, which was the highlight of their travels.

Leon and Edith raised four daughters, Carol-Lee (Paul), the late Nicole Evatz (Richard), Lydia (David) and Tami. He is also survived by seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A memorial will be scheduled at a future date.

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