Leon T. Mingo was not exactly a poker shark. He and some old pals would get together every other weekend. They weren't poker sharks, either.

"He would come home, saying, 'I won!' and pull out his $1.25 take," said his wife, Della Mingo. "They played for quarters, so the time together was the big thing."

Family and friends were what shaped Leon's life and gave it meaning. Loyalty and devotion were his major characteristics. Some family members and friends who were down on their luck or just trying to find themselves would be welcomed to stay in his home — sometimes for years — until they were able to strike out on their own.

Leon Mingo, a Navy veteran who suffered a disabling injury while serving aboard an aircraft carrier in 1967, a man of wide knowledge respected by many friends who sought him out for an education that came with their friendship, died of pancreatic cancer on May 12. He was 72 and lived in East Norriton, but had lived many years in East Oak Lane.

Born and raised in Trenton, Leon graduated from Trenton Central High School in 1958, and a few months later joined the Navy. He served on several ships before being assigned to the USS John F. Kennedy, nicknamed "Big John," when it was launched on May 27, 1964, and christened by President Kennedy's daughter, Caroline, at Newport News, Va.

Leon was supposed to be aboard when it took its inaugural run, but he suffered a broken neck in a fall. He spent a year in the James J. Peterson Veterans Hospital, in the Bronx, and was left with paralysis of his left side. He received a full disability discharge.

"My friend Mingo was such a gentle giant," said longtime pal Machel Taylor. "He gave so freely to everybody. He was so intelligent, too. He did not have the college degrees but certainly had a command of information that was highly respected by all who knew him. He was so well-rounded, so he enjoyed sports and was a master chess player."

"Despite his disability, my husband led a full life," said his wife of 50 years. "He became father to my daughters. In fact, they asked if they could call him "Daddy" and bought a record titled 'Call Me Daddy' to play for him.

"He cherished his daughters and was a pushover for the grandchildren. He paid college tuition for the girls. During the year, he would make a list of all the toys and gifts the children mentioned. Then we would do our best to make sure they received what they wanted.

"He had a big heart, opening our home to family and friends who needed a place to stay. My niece, Kim Butler, became a third daughter to him She spent summers with us from the age of 8 to adulthood. She relished the private father-daughter talks they had while gardening together."

Leon and his wife traveled widely. "He enjoyed showing me the world," his wife said.

Their relationship had gotten off to an uncertain start.

"We had met about a year after Mingo enlisted, but we just did not jell," his wife said, referring to her husband as Mingo, as everyone else did. "Then, when he was stationed in Philadelphia, we met again in 1962 through mutual friends. I was asked to show him around the city. Well, by that time we were in different places in our lives. We connected and were married later.

"There is so much I could say about my soul mate, but most important, I was able to pray with my husband before his death to lead him to the Lord. That was the icing on the cake for our 50 years together."

Besides his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Adam Williams and Earlene Bond; three brothers, Walter, Robert and Bruce; three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Services: Will be in Norfolk, Va., where he will be buried at sea. n

Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or morrisj@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @johnfmorrison.