Five questions with the new director of the Mountain Home National Cemetery

Jonathan Roberts • Jan 7, 2020 at 9:30 PM

It’s safe to say Kirk Leopard has done some traveling in his lifetime, but he feels he’s finally found a home in Johnson City. 

A 21-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, Leopard spent time in more than 30 countries while with the Navy, stationed in Guam and Egypt along the way. Leopard also spent 14 years as a submariner. 

In 2005 though, Leopard decided to embark on a new career path, and went to work at the Veterans Administration. Since then, he’s been stationed in eight different cities — everywhere from Miami, Florida, to San Diego, California — before settling in Johnson City as the director of the Mountain Home National Cemetery.  

Leopard briefly: 

Favorite local restaurant? “All of them! I love to eat and I developed a taste for different cuisines as I moved around in the military.”

Summer or Winter? “Summer. I love fishing and sailing.”

Dogs or cats? “Both! I have one of each. And a ferret.”

Favorite movie? Life is Beautiful by Roberto Benigni.

Favorite band/artist/song? “Almost anything local, the local music scene here is incredible. I love artists who write and perform their own material.” 

How did you end up in Johnson City?

I came here a few years ago to give training. I fell in love with the location and everybody was super friendly in the community. When the position came open I didn’t have to think about applying — I knew I wanted to be here. I’ve been a nomad for most of my adult life but this is where I want to put down roots and stay.

What's been your favorite part of living here so far, and how does it stack up to previous places you lived?

I love the fact that there is so much opportunity for interacting with nature here. The hiking trails, mountains and rivers are incredible. I also took up fly fishing since I moved here. I’ve heard it takes a lifetime to get it right. After a few months of trying I’m SURE they’re correct. There is a sense of serenity and peace here that I feel every day. I have really appreciated the opportunity to travel the world and live in so many different places but they never felt like home. This does.

What are the most difficult and rewarding parts of your job? 

The hardest part of my job has been trying to get the word out to veterans and their dependents about the benefits they’ve earned from their service. The veterans community here does a great job with outreach but we still talk to people every day who don’t know what benefits they’ve earned. 

I’ve made a lifetime of helping others. In the military I was a medic and took care of their physical needs. In my capacity as a cemetery director I offer comfort and support for families and honor the service my fellow veterans gave to our country. Every day I feel a great sense of accomplishment in knowing that we have honored our brothers and sisters at their family’s greatest time of need.

As cemetery director, you’re certainly dealing with a lot of grief and sadness everyday; how do you stay positive and upbeat in your line of work?

My staff only has one chance to get everything right. We try to treat every service like that was our family taking care of a loved one. That kind of dedication makes me proud of my staff and how hard they work and how much they care. That’s a big part of it. The thing that keeps me coming to work every day, though, is the people we help. When someone gives you a hug and tells you that the last memory of their loved one was better because we helped; there is no greater sense of accomplishment for me.

What's your advice to people dealing with a loss, or grieving?

Everyone deals with loss differently. There is no right or wrong way to mourn a loved one. The thing I always tell people though is to get help if it becomes overwhelming. There are grief counselors available as well as clergy and friends. Use those resources to help get through the most difficult time in your life. 

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