FREDERICK, Md. - One of Kate Leckie's favorite places in the world was the Frederick County Courthouse, whether it was covering a trial in Courtroom No. 1 with its incredibly uncomfortable seats, grabbing a quick lunch from the basement vending machine and running into sources with information ripe for a story, or asking about the family of one of the administrative assistants as she picked up case dockets for the coming week.
Leckie, the police and courts reporter at The Frederick News-Post for the past 17 years, died Sunday morning at her childhood home in Chester, Va., where she had been residing since her diagnosis last August of esophageal cancer. She was 50.
Leckie spent her entire working life in newspapers, including stints at The Richmond (Va.) Times--Dispatch and The Honolulu Star-Bulletin before joining The News-Post in 1995, first as a nighttime police reporter and later covering the courthouse beat.
She was an "old school" reporter, hitting the streets and talking to people face-to-face rather than simply relying on emails and faxes. Leckie could also work the phone during a breaking story, using unlisted numbers that police officers, lawyers and judges gladly gave to her and nobody else. Her stories shed light on some of society's greatest ills, such as drunken driving, child abuse and domestic violence, but she was also adept at telling the stories of life's positive moments. Sometimes the two intertwined, as in the story she did on a man stealing from churches to support a drug habit, later telling readers about his successful graduation from a drug rehabilitation program.
Leckie believed that everyone, whether they were elected officials or the courthouse custodian, had a story worth telling.
"She was aggressive. She wanted to get it all and get it first," Frederick City Police Chief Kim Dine said Monday. "But the huge other side of her was that humanity. ... She never lost that sense" of people being the most important part, both in the story and in her dealings with people as she gathered information.
Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, spokeswoman for the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, said Monday she could expect that when Leckie called, "she always had 10 or 12 questions" as she sought to get the most complete story. Bailey said in her line of work she doesn't ask favors of the media, "only fairness, and Kate was always fair. You could be talking to her and when you said you were going to say something 'off the record' her pen would go down. But if she was interviewing you, you better know she was taking notes."
Many who came in contact with Leckie were quick to notice her smile and brilliant blue eyes. Colleagues often kidded her about the dimpled smile being left over from her days as a cheerleader and homecoming queen. She spoke in a soft southern drawl and had an infectious laugh.
"She was so well-liked by everybody. Her personality transcended her position as a reporter," Frederick County States Attorney Charlie Smith said Monday. "There was a reason she was so successful in her work. You looked at her first as a friend. But the great thing was that it never compromised her as a professional. Her reporting was the most accurate they had. She was very meticulous."
Frederick County Circuit Court Judge Theresa Adams said Sunday she also admired Leckie's professionalism, recalling a murder trial where a witness from the department of corrections was testifying. A group sat in the back of the courtroom menacingly holding up Bic lighters as a symbol that "they were going to burn him for what he said." Adams said she excused the jury and announced that no one in the courtroom would be allowed to hold anything in his or her hands.
"Katie looked at me and held up the notebook in her hand," Adams recalled, which said to her that Leckie didn't automatically assume she was excluded in the ban. "She had a total respect for the courtroom. She was dignified." The judge also appreciated the reporter's accuracy. "I never read anything in her stories that was inconsistent with what went on in the courtroom."
Adams said she considered Leckie a friend. "She was so gracious and pretty," and they often joked outside the courtroom about shopping for clothes on QVC or talked about their children that were around the same ages. "I respected her as a professional and loved her as a friend," she said.