TODAY   |  December 13, 2012

Mike Leonard bids emotional farewell to TODAY

After being a part of the TODAY family for more than three decades, Mike Leonard filed his final report for the show today. He bids farewell with a touching tribute to his wife, Cathy, who he says “has inspired me to see the beauty in our everyday existence.”

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> he has been part of the "today" show family for more than three decades and brought us countless stories of people who often get overlook, his snack of telling stories and these are the little moments that loom very large, a skill he learned from a special person in his life-long before he became a reporter. happy birthday to you

>> they say it's just a number but as birthdays go, the number 65 is a shock sneer h.

>> how can you be 65 when i'm 64?

>> reporter: it was a gathering at our home a birthday celebration honoring the oldest guy and youngest grandchild. she got toys. my toy was a reprimand of sorts when it was learned i was playing pickup hockey without a helmet.

>> why isn't he wearing a helmet?

>> because he's stubborn and an idiot.

>> reporter: the birthdays add up and children grow up and another holiday season rolls around bringing with it that unsettling sense of time flying by, the clock ticking faster.

>> ticktock ticktock.

>> reporter: something even the young start to notice.

>> i bet by the time my age is double digits, like 10, i bet it will speed up.

>> reporter: i find it hard to believe eight years has passed since little josie's today show debuted. our family overwhelmed by the emotional impact of her arrival. now, on the day of my departure from the broadcast family that gave me the freedom to tell such personal stories, i find it hard to believe 32 years has come and gone and that i'm down to one last story, one final opportunity to pay tribute to the person who inspired me to see the beauty in our everyday existence, a beauty inspired by my wife, kathy . wit humor, grace and tolerance, she made it possible for me to use our houses as a stand-in for anybody's house, minus, of course, the camera crews and the souvenir works of fine art gathered from the road.

>> you like it?

>> reporter: more than anything else, though, it was kathy 's spontaneous embrace of those everyday moments quietly captured by my home movie camera that taught me how to see life from a different angle, to notice the little things , and then to celebrate them collectively with the world full of people who, like kathy , never get the credit they deserve. when the end comes, we often look back to the beginning and wonder how we ever made it through the pain, the fear, the worry and the uncertainty. where did our stth come from? and our inspiration? and our hope? who pulled us through? i got my first tv job as a 30-year-old, after showing a phoenix news director some of my home movies made with a super 8 film camera . was that my lucky break ? no. my lucky break came a lot earlier.

>> i've had a lot of lucky breaks, lucky to have the family i have right back there, forgiving me all my flaws and also really really lucky to have a today show family like i have right here that i've been part of for 32 years.

>> no. we are the lucky ones . let me tell you something, mike. your stories -- i always thought that from the first day here, they are a microcosm of you. they have incredible heart, they're told with kindness and hope and modesty. they are understated and yet so powerful. that is you in a nutshell.

>> it's interesting, matt. i tried out for a professional hockey team. when i was being interviewed, i was the only american in camp. i made a lot of mistakes and i was nervous and i said things that were kind of stupid. then when i got into tv i thought i don't want to do that to other people. when you interview them all the people i talk to are usually not tv folks. you had to handle them with care because it's their first time. that's what i tried to do, anyway.

>> i don't know how you do it. you just did it a few minutes ago, you make us laugh and then cry every time.

>> i couldn't even look at natalie. you have an amazing gift, amazing talent, a beautiful writer, somebody i really admire and have admired so long.

>> all the little stuff, you look for the accomplishments and it's the things in the middle.

>> you let us into your life like no one else. we witnessed these incredible moments. your mom, i think, still to this day, she makes us laugh so much. we wish you all the best with your family. start wearing that hockey helmet . seriously.

>> do you have a favorite story? that's a terrible question. do you have one when you stop and think back, will always stay with you?

>> i have a lot of favorite stories. it's the people i met. i've become friends with many of the folks i've done stories on. i did a story recently on a mailman in chicago, african- american guy who was part of the civil rights movement nobody knew. he didn't tell anybody, he was doing his mail route. sometimes those folks get dis disrespected. he was on the battle line . a lot of people have been on the battle line in everyday life . i think they have to be respected.

>> let me say to you, mike, and kathy and team leonard over there on the side of the studio, we thank you for your talent over these 30 plus years and do not be a stranger. come back any time.

>> i'll be back again.

>> congratulations.

>> thanks.