Deceased , Modern



1935 - 2013


Charlie Leighton’s genius lay in his unique ability to bring people together with a renewed energy; to awaken in these people a dedication to a cause and to bring them all to the same table to get things done. He was an incredibly popular leader, mentor, employer and friend, and his sunny demeanor and determined yet cheerful commitment to sailing are legendary. With a profoundly committed spirit of service, he left every organization he graced better for having known him. His former employees, colleagues, friends and family, almost as a single voice, speak of his respect for them, his ability to listen, his cheerful presence, and his dedication to sailing. They speak of his infectious delight in everything related to sailing, and his intense commitment to fair play. They speak of his love for excellence in sailing, and the admiration for the athletes at the top of the game. And every single person interviewed spoke of his insistence that credit for accomplishments go to others. Sailing as a pastime and a sport is better for having enjoyed Charlie Leighton’s attentions.


Sailing-Related Accomplishments and Honors

  • As skipper of his Hinckley 42 Whitecap, he earned a remarkable series of victories and awards including:
  • Herreshoff Medal: 1993
  • Cygnet Cup: 1997, 1999
  • Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron Bowl
  • 1st in Class, NYYC Annual Regatta: 1993, 1994, 1995
  • 1st, Una Cup: 1995
  • 1st, Astor Cup: 1995
  • Irving Pratt Memorial Trophy, Class 2: 1996
  • Chairman, Board of Advisors of Sail to Prevail
  • For Sail to Prevail, initiated the Bi-Annual fundraising campaign
  • Executive Director of US Sailing :
    • He put the organization on firm ground financially, allowing them to sustain this financial stability for years to come.
    • He also recruited and developed a talented and professional group of volunteers, managers and donors that allowed all of the diverse areas within the organization to be self-sufficient.
    • Took the US Sailing Medalist Donor Program from $250,000 to $2.4 million in just three years
    • In his honor, the Charlie Leighton Award was created- presented to the individual who has made a significant difference in the lives of the members of the US Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Program.
    • The US Sailing Team awards, presented annually are lovingly referred to as the “Charlies”, after Charlie Leighton, and they cover such diverse categories as Breakthrough Performance, Commercial Award, Best Teammate, Social Media Award, and Outstanding Service to the Team.
  • As Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the America’s Cup syndicate Young America, Charlie united several yacht clubs from around the US as partners in the challenge, thus making it a truly national effort.
  • As Commodore of New York Yacht Club, Charlie was able to unite an always politically complex group of sailors in an effort to make their yacht club more “member friendly” while still maintaining a sense of tradition.
  • As a college student, Charlie was a founder of the Bowdoin Sailing Team, a group that is still active today.
  • Vice Commodore of Chatham Yacht Club
  • Chatham Yacht Club Sailing School – Lane/ Leighton Trophy: In 1955, Charlie Leighton and Julie Lane were the two driving forces behind the creation of the shore school. This permanent trophy was given in their honor after a year-end elimination race.


From Paul Callahan, Two-time Paralympian and Chief Executive Officer, Sail To Prevail – The National Disabled Sailing Program:
“As Chairman of the Board of Advisors to Sail To Prevail, and a long-time and loyal friend, Charlie put his full and unwavering, selfless and “invisible fingerprint” on so much of Sail To Prevail’s success – assisting disabled children and Veterans to have better lives through sailing. Moreover, in his true master-mind methodology, Charlie silently navigated my personal path in the sailing world through many very complicated situations – full of sensitivities and personalities – and, ultimately, always diverted the credit to me for his skillful work.”

From Phil Bennett of Hinckley Yachts:
“ Sailing with Charlie was a pleasure. ‘Come on big team!’ was as harsh an admonishment as he would ever give when we were struggling, and when we were winning he always credited the team. Charlie was such a leader, but he always deferred to others. He made friends – never lost them. I don’t think he ever burned a bridge in his life. In fact I don’t think he even owned a pack of matches!”

From Gary Jobson, Past President, US Sailing, highly decorated sailor, author and Hall of Fame inductee:
“Charlie Leighton was an inspiration to me, and a giant in the world of sailing. He was very passionate about racing and helping young people reach their dreams. Charlie’s enthusiasm was infectious. He was a leader and always seemed to be enjoying life. It was an honor to be Charlie’s friend. He will be missed, but leaves an enduring legacy.”

From John Marshall, Olympic medalist and former CEO of Young America:
“Charlie exemplified hard work, good cheer, an optimistic approach and a profound respect for every team member’s contribution.

From Josh Adams, Managing Director of U.S. Olympic Sailing:
“Charlie had a tremendous impact on U.S. Olympic Sailing. He created the Medalist major gift program that directly benefits Olympic and Paralympic sailors. Charlie was more than a fundraiser; he was a passionate friend to the Teams …”

From Tom Hubbell, President of US Sailing:
“When Charlie came on board as Executive Director, the board and staff was thrilled that we could work with a person of this depth of business experience and gift of interpersonal skills. And Charlie exceeded even those expectations. He radiated a positive attitude. He believed that bringing in very good people would produce very good results. US Sailing grew stronger and happier under his leadership.” (2013)

Charlie, the Natural Leader
When one looks back on Charlie’s life, it is really no surprise that he was a leader in just about any endeavor on which he set his sights. From his grammar school days as Head Prefect at St. Peter’s in Manhattan, to his captaining, at the young age of 16, a forty foot yawl belonging to his neighbors who had enlisted him to teach them how to sail, Charlie naturally “took the helm”.
As a student at Bowdoin College in the 1950’s, Charlie and three of his friends, seeing that there was no sailing team, petitioned the college to start one of their own. After receiving approval from school authorities, he and his teammates raised enough money to buy five boats and a piece of waterfront property. They then proceeded to race every weekend and make a name for their school. Bowdoin’s sailing team is still active sixty years later thanks to Charlie’s initiative.

Charlie and New York Yacht Club
As a member of the New York Yacht Club, Charlie Leighton was known as someone who would consistently give more of himself than he was asked. He was a founder of the “Original Nine”, also known as the “A Group Partnership”, a group of New York Yacht Club members who made it possible to purchase Harbor Court in Newport, Rhode Island, and make it New York Yacht Club’s second home. He was later Commodore of New York Yacht Club, from 1992-94, and was known as a unifier and consensus builder within the yacht club. During this time he was the driving force behind the Sesquicentennial Regatta, an event that drew over 2,000 members and guests from around the world to Harbor Court for a week-long regatta to celebrate the club’s 1844 founding.
As Commodore he also made it his mission to codify the mission statement of the Yacht Club and to reexamine the idea of “tradition” in a yacht club setting such as NYYC. He felt that the word tradition should excite people, and make them proud to be a part of something, not embarrass them, a trend he was seeing in some yacht clubs. Part of his goal was to make sure his yacht club was member-friendly and due to this, as well as his optimistic approach to everything he faced, Charlie was a vastly popular Commodore.

Charlie and the America’s Cup
John Marshall, the CEO of the 2000 America’s Cup challenger Young America, hired Charlie Leighton to be his Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the syndicate. It was a transitional time for the America’s Cup, a time when professional sailors and sponsor logos were controversial, and Charlie was the perfect leader and mediator to build bridges between the various viewpoints and to unite disparate groups for a common cause. According to Marshall, Charlie truly exemplified the efforts of the group – “to understand and revel in the spirit of our “young” nation, and the honest, friendly, risk-taking competition that yacht racing can be.” As Chairman, Charlie brought six distinguished yacht clubs, one from each of America’s premier racing regions, as partners in the challenge. According to Marshall, “Charlie’s belief in his team and their ability to represent the best ideals of America was evident for all to see, and his leadership was persuasive and inspirational”.

Charlie and US Sailing
Perhaps the time when Charlie Leighton’s efforts and financial acumen made the largest impact to the greatest number of sailors was the period from January, 2005 through October, 2010. During this time he was the Executive Director of US Sailing. His ability to rally support for programs and to raise the level of professionalism within the organization brought US Sailing to a new level of effectiveness altogether.
A good example of Charlie’s fund raising prowess would be the US Sailing Medalist Donor Program, set up to fund the US Olympic Sailing Team. This program, run through US Sailing, went from about $250,000 in 2005, when Charlie first came on board, to an astounding $2.4 million in 2008. During this time Charlie signed their first ever title sponsor, the first time a governing body of an Olympic sport in the US had secured such an entity. This level of support was due to Charlie’s irrepressible diligence in securing more support for the teams and to his ability to achieve “buy in” with just about anybody he brought to the table. Due to his proven success with sponsors, the US Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Teams continue to enjoy support from title sponsors, as well as from many individual donors.
Charlie was so inspired and impressed by the Olympic athletes that even after his time as Executive Director of US Sailing was over, he continued to volunteer his time with the Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Programs. In his honor, an award has been created – the Charlie Leighton Award – that is presented to the individual who has made a significant difference in the lives of the members of the US Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Program.

Alison, Betsy. Personal Interview. 21 March 2013.
Becker, Annie. Personal Interview. 17 March 2013.
Bennett, Phil. Personal Interview. 18 March 2013.
“Commodore Defines New NYYC Course.” New York Yacht Club. Winter 1993: 1. Print.
Cooney, Dan. Personal Interview. 16 March 2013.
Jobson, Gary. Personal Interview. 22 March 2013.
Leighton, Frederick. Personal Interview. 21 March 2013.
Lord, Peggy. A Grand Spectacle Ashore and Afloat.” New York Yacht Club. Summer 1994: 8. Print.
“US Sailing Remembers Charlie Leighton.” US Sailing. US Sailing Media. 2013. Web. 18 March 2013.
“Whitecap.” New York Yacht Club Catalogue of Models. New York Yacht Club. 28 February 2005. Print.

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