WASHINGTON — Willie Leftwich was the guy who seemed to have it all. He was a successful engineer and lawyer who was trying to do all he could to live a healthy lifestyle.
Leftwich worked out and tried to eat all the right things, but his health took a downward spiral.
"One day several years ago, they told me I had colon cancer," Leftwich said about his cancer diagnosis in the 90s. "I was lost because last thing I thought [was] I had cancer.”
Leftwich beat cancer, but his career as a lawyer faded away after missing months of work
“It took me about three months to find something else to do," he said. "I found pottery."
Leftwitch went from engineering and practicing law to creating pots, vases and bowls.
His art began selling for hundreds of dollars, he became more experienced and his story even appeared in newspapers. It seemed like things were going right again until Leftwich got sick again.
"I had a stroke 13 years ago on the day before Thanksgiving," he said. " A stroke does -- did change my life. I couldn’t speak. My body was whole -- the right side of my body to me is locked. No doctors gave me no hope."
Leftwich said doctors told him he'd be confined to his bed and a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
"The doctors are good," he said. "They’re the best doctors in the world. It is up to me and God."
Leftwich learned how to walk, talk, and even drive again. For him, it became even more meaningful when he was able to rediscover his passion and talent for creating pottery.
The pottery that sits around Leftwich’s home that was created after his stroke seemed to represent a rebellion against all the things doctors said he'd never do again.
Leftwitch turned his passion and drive into a way to help other stoke victims have hope.
He's choosing to inspire his peers and future generations through his foundation, Willie’s Way.
"If it helps one person, it’s good," he said.
Leftwich is one of four people who were honored with a Cultural Heritage Award from the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C.
The Patsy Fletcher Cultural Heritage Award honors people who have made significant contributions to the District’s cultural landscape.
Here's a list of the other award recipients:
Patsy Fletcher was a scholar, an author, a preservationist, an historian and a community outreach coordinator. She was well-known throughout the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan because of her work on behalf of the D.C. Historic Preservation Office.
Stanley Ross is affectionately known, as "Uncle Stanley." He's the quintessential "Neighborhood sentinel." Ross is a native Washingtonian and a product of the D.C. Public School system. He attended Alexander Crummell Elementary School and Browne Junior High School. He maintained his connection to the neighborhood by buying his parents’ house located in D.C.'s northeast Trinidad neighborhood, and has remained a fixture at that residence for almost 90 years.
Therrill C. Smith is the founder and executive director of the Therrell Smith School of Dance. Therrill conceived of opening her own dance studio at an early age. She began her formal ballet training with Mabel Jones Freeman when she was eight years old.