William R. Leighton, Sr.

September 17, 1946 ~ November 27, 2020 (age 74)


Our beloved husband, father and grandfather died the day after Thanksgiving on his mother’s birthday surrounded by his family.Bill was born in Newark, New Jersey to Elaine Rado and Allen K. Leighton.  He grew up in Chatham, NJ and graduated from Chatham High School in 1964; he earned a B.A. in mathematics from Duke University where he was on the Dean’s List.  Upon graduation in 1968, he married Bettie Harding, and together they had two sons, William Rado Leighton, Jr, and Justin Todd Leighton.

Following in the footsteps of his Naval Academy father, Bill reported for Officers Candidate School in Newport, RI and later Navy Supply Corps School in Athens, GA. He served as Lt. JG on The USS Stormes. His commanding officer, in a glowing letter of recommendation on Bill’s behalf for graduate school, described him as…:   “energetic, conscientious and versatile… highly intelligent with an alert, probing mind… tactful and diplomatic. . . excellent sense of humor and ingrained respect for his fellow men.”  Bill would agree, they got this right.

In one year, Bill earned his MBA in finance from the University of Pennsylvania—Wharton School of Business.  He was on the Director’s Honor List and a member of the international business honor society, Beta Gamma Sigma.Anxious to relocate from snow and cold, he accepted a position with Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. in 1973 in Houston in the audit and management consulting practices. He got his wish:  it rarely snows in Houston.  That same year, he scored the highest grade in the State of Texas on the CPA exam, in spite of his mentor saying he had no chance of passing with only 12 hours of accounting courses.  Bill got the last word:  he was presented The Sells Award for his outstanding achievement.In 1979, he joined his client, Gordon Jewelry Corporation, as Assistant Treasurer and rose to Vice President and Treasurer. In 1987 he took a position as Executive Vice President and CFO of G. C. Services.

On a blind date in September 1981, Bill met his true love and best friend, Debby Johnson.  Different backgrounds (New Jersey and Alabama) and totally opposite personalities made for the perfect blend of his dry wit, intellect, and reserved manner with Debby’s outgoing personality and fun-loving ways.  They married on May 18, 1984 in Houston and built their lives together based on shared values of loyalty, love for one another, and true enjoyment of each other’s company.  Together they learned, “No one is perfect until you marry them.”

Following his passion for investments, in 1998 Bill was finally able to do what he had always envisioned for himself – to help others vis-a-vis their financial needs.  With his incredible intellect and amazing steady stewardship, Bill partnered with two of his best friends, Tom Callahan at Callahan Leighton and later with Kelly Somoza at 5151 Advisors until his retirement in 2016.

Bill was determined that he and Debby would not waste one moment of their time together.  Trips involved a lot of history and sightseeing, but the truth was, they were more about shopping!  They traveled extensively for family events and pleasure and visited  many of Bill’s life-long Duke and Navy friends.  At some point, maybe one of the Dukies will disclose what his nick-name “Herc” really means. 

As die-hard Duke basketball fans, they attended the first of 10 Final Four championship games in 1986 (Duke lost).  The pinnacle for Bill came in 1992 when Duke won their second of 5 national championships. Together they followed Debby’s Auburn football team to Cotton and Sugar Bowls, and Auburn’s national championship win in 2010.

Bill served five years on the Finance and Audit committee of Neighborhood Centers Inc., now known as BakerRipley; and as a Patron of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University.  He and Debby founded the annual Auburn Freshmen Send-off party in 2005, which continues to this day.  In addition, Bill was very supportive of Debby’s career and community service.

Bill and Debby learned to ski and play golf in the mid ‘80’s so they would have “things to do together when we get old.” Bill loved to ski in Colorado, Utah, and Canada with children, grandchildren and friends.  Apres-ski was his favorite part of the day.

Becoming a grandfather was the highlight of his life!  Wills arrived early Thanksgiving morning in 2005, and four months later the triplets arrived!  Charlotte joined Wills in 2008, and Kate joined the triplets in 2013.  He took great license overindulging them and bragged that he went from “none to four” in just four months.  In the 2011 Christmas letter, he lamented that none of the grandchildren were accepted early decision to Harvard due to some silly age restriction.


Nothing defined Bill like his annual Christmas letter.  Tired of Debby’s “long & tedious” epistles, he rolled out the annual “Leighton sophomoric humor,” and everyone eagerly awaited their Christmas card.  It was Bill’s way of succinctly and amusingly bragging about his sons and grandchildren, recapping the year, and teasing Debby.  In the 2001 letter, Bill recounted that on one of Debby’s business trips to London, he went along to carry the bags and of course, check out Bond Street.


Bill is survived by his loving wife of 37 years, Debby; son Dr. William R. Leighton, Jr., wife Chris and grandchildren William (Wills) R. Leighton, III (15) and granddaughter Charlotte (12); son Justin T. Leighton, wife Linzi, and grandchildren Todd, Claire, Lane (triplets, 14) and Kate (7); former daughter-in-law Sara Leighton, all of Houston; sister-in-law Susan Johnson Pedersen of Birmingham, AL and nephew Jordan Pedersen of Angola, IN; maternal aunt and uncle, Rita and Dr. George Proll of Vorhees, NJ; felines Jackson, Rado, Jay and Shady.  He is predeceased by his parents Elaine Rado and Allen K. Leighton, brother John Richard Leighton, sister Nancy Leighton Royse, maternal grandparents Amy and Dr. William Rado, and paternal grandparents Karen and Max Leighton.


For two years, Bill was cared for with dignity and tenderness by everyone at Silverado Hermann Park Memory Care.  Strong bonds were formed with other families who were experiencing the same loss of independence of their loved one, which helped make each day together as precious as possible.  The family is deeply grateful to the staff, Le Riggs, Hailea Whitlock, Eunique Jones, Maurice Russell, Wendy Rodriguez, Shamika Lawrence, and Melissa Rushing; the nursing staff, Gail, Penny, Roxana, JoJo, Ashley, and Elizabeth; CNA’s Kim, Twyla, Antoinette, Shay, Nikki and Mary.


A memorial service will be held on December 9 at 2:30 P.M. in the Sanctuary of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 3471 Westheimer Road, Houston, Texas 77027.  Dr. Tom Pace will officiate. Social distancing will be observed and masks required. Due to COVID 19 restrictions, for those wishing not to attend, you may view a live stream of the service by logging on to


Memorial donations may be made to the Parkinson’s Research Foundation, 25969 Cattleridge Blvd., Suite 100, Sarasota, FL 34232 or online at; or to Houston’s BakerRipley, P. O. Box 231808, Houston, TX 77223 or online at, or the charity of your choice.




December 9, 2020

2:00 PM
St. Luke's United Methodist Church
3471 Westheimer
Houston, TX 77027

Memorial Service
December 9, 2020

2:30 PM
St. Luke's United Methodist Church
3471 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, Texas 77027

Please note
William R. Leighton, Sr., 74, died peacefully on Friday, November 27, 2020. He is survived by his loving wife, Debby; sons William R. Leighton, Jr. (Chris) and Justin T. Leighton (Linzi); as well as Justin’s former wife, Sara; six precious grandchildren and four cats. A memorial service is scheduled for half past two o’clock in the afternoon on Wednesday, December 9, 2020 in the sanctuary of St Luke’s United Methodist Church, 3471 Westheimer Road in Houston. Due to COVID 19 restrictions, for those wishing not to attend, you may view a livestream of the service by logging onto Please see next Sunday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle for a more detailed obituary.
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