Teri Leiker was a cherished thread in the tapestry of the Boulder community for most of her life, spreading joy to everyone she came into contact with through her smiles, hugs and kindness.
She was a constant at King Soopers in south Boulder, working as a courtesy clerk for 31 years where she bagged groceries, gathered carts and dispensed hugs when a familiar face would stop by to say hello.
Leiker, 51, was the kind of person who remembered everyone’s name, who won handfuls of medals at the Special Olympics, who loved mashed potatoes — without the skins! — and family barbecues at her parent’s home in Berthoud.
She was one of 10 people killed on March 22 when a gunman opened fire on the grocery store at 3600 Table Mesa Drive, and her death leaves an hole in the community she loved.
“She was our happiness,” said Margie Whittington, Leiker’s mother. “If I was upset or mad or things were going wrong — you just have to see her smiling face, and you feel better.”
Whittington had originally planned to pick Leiker up from work on March 22 and, if not for a sudden change in her own work schedule, would have been in the parking lot when the shooting started.
“I wish I would’ve,” she said. “I wish it would’ve been me instead.”
Diagnosed with a cognitive disability at 3 years old, Leiker dealt with classmates making fun of her as a child and faced obstacles as an adult. But her life was full, Whittington said. Leiker traveled frequently, including cruises to Mexico and Alaska with a partner and his family, trips to Tennessee, Nova Scotia and Hawaii.
“I don’t know if I could tell you the best memory I had with her, because every time I was with her was happy,” Whittington said.
Leiker graduated from Longmont High School, began living independently at 21 years old and purchased her condo in Boulder in 2007. She was an active member of the University of Colorado Boulder community, including 11 years with the Best Buddies program and attending and watching as many sporting events as she could.
She loved her current Best Buddy, Lexi, the most, Whittington said.
King Soopers was her first and only job, which she began in 1989, and this week the company gave Leiker’s parents her 30-year ring for her work anniversary. From now on, the ring will be known as the Teri Leiker 30th Anniversary Ring at all King Soopers stores.
Leiker was very rarely grumpy, Whittington said, and usually only when she became frustrated with tasks made more difficult by her disabilities, which included handling money, time and abstract thinking.
“I would put my arm around her and say, ‘Look, it’s OK. You’re doing your best. Just do what you can do,’” Whittington said.
Before her death, Leiker was happier than her family had seen her in a long time. She had recently moved in with her new partner, Clint, who was also a longtime colleague. She and Clint were planning on planting a garden and traveling to Arizona together.
And even after decades in Boulder, Leiker would get in the car when Whittington picked her up from work and look to the mountains.
“She’d say, ‘Mom, look at those beautiful Flatirons,’” Whittington said.
Leiker’s family — her dad Tom, brother Kevin, sister-in-law RoxAnn and niece Rachael — have been overwhelmed by the support of the community and King Soopers since her death, Whittington said.
“One thing that is important to know is even with disabilities, with help and determination you can make a happy life for yourself,” Whittington said. “She loved her job, she loved the people she worked with, she loved the people that came into the store and she loved her customers … She was very, very happy the second before this happened.”
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