NEWBERRY – There’s an old Celtic song about a wild Irish rose. “My wild Irish rose, the sweetest flower that grows,” the hymn goes.
Elaine May remembers her mother singing that song when she was growing up. Her mother loved Irish music.
“She’d always tell people, ‘I’m a sucker for an Irish tenor,’” May said.
It’s been over a year since May’s mother stopped singing. Ninety-six-year-old Lila Leach died on Sept. 6, 2010, after she was brutally beaten in her Newberry home at 322 NW 259th Terrace earlier that year, on July 16.
Her house was found in disarray, leading some to believe it was a burglary.
She was hospitalized at Shands at the University of Florida after the attack, suffering from fractures, broken bones and brain damage. Leach died when she was taken off life support.
The case remains unsolved, but Leach’s family is still hoping for answers.
Living in Florida was a fulfillment for Leach, her daughter said. Originally from Delaware, Leach moved to Florida with her family in 1975. Her mother wasn’t a fan of the cold weather and “falling around on the ice,” according to May.
Leach lived in Gainesville and in Newberry throughout those years. In 2009, she moved back to Newberry to be closer to her daughter.
“No matter where we went or what we did, she always came back to wanting to live in Florida,” May said.
Leach was not one to stay in one place, though. She loved to travel. May said she remembers going on family trips to St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, New York, Niagara Falls and Arizona.
Even in her final years, Leach would watch the Travel Channel. “I just got back from Siberia,” Leach would tell her family and friends when they called, May said.
She loved to meet people on her travels and to experience different cultures. This attitude was not restrained to being on the road, May said.
Leach was always interested in and surrounded by people. May estimates that wherever she went, there would be at least 20 to 25 people there to routinely tell their problems.
May remembers how a neighbor would tell Leach her problems in Portuguese, stopping every once in a while to say, “I know you don’t know much of my language.” Nevertheless, Leach listened and told her daughter the language was beautiful.
Even at the time of her death, she was never alone for more than three hours, May said.
Though the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office said it still gets occasional leads, it has made no arrests.
Leach is survived by her two daughters and a son. Leach’s Pomeranian dog, named Rya, lives with May.
May said she hopes that the criminal is caught, because as long as he or she is free, there’s a possibility it could happen again. She said she counted at least 11 other elderly people in the area where her mother was attacked.
Anyone with information related to Leach’s death is urged to call the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office at 352-955-1818.
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