Leone came from humble beginning's, being born to Luigi and Catena Spiccia, in the town of Sinagra, province of Messina, Italy. At a young age, it was discovered that Leone was advanced and he skipped grades at school. Luigi and Catena worked on the land and in their tile factory and things were tough. Leone's academic abilities may have gone unnoticed, however, by some miracle, his Uncle Gaetano Russo came back to Sinagra from Perth for a holiday. Leone's Mum and Dad decided overnight that they would leave Italy behind and make a new life in Australia for their 3 children (brother Carmelo and sister Mariannina) where there would be better opportunities for them.
They arrived in Australia on 22 July 1968 when Leone was 11. He went straight into Osborne Park Primary School with no English and next year moved to Westminster Primary School in Balga, where the family settled down. Luigi worked as a stonemason around Perth. This was an excellent introduction to local Australian life. Balga was a cultural melting pot and the newly opened Balga High School was tremendous. Leone excelled at high school, and loved playing sports mainly soccer and cricket. He eventually played for Wanneroo Districts Cricket Club. The family, who didn't drive, would catch taxis to see Leone play. Luigi and Catena were very proud of the success of Leone pursuing his education onto the University of Western Australia in 1975. They always valued the importance of education for their children.
Leone excelled at his studies at UWA and decided to major in chemistry which he loved. While doing Honours in chemistry at 21 he met Vivien and they became lifelong partners. They married in 1983, eventually having 2 children. Leone graduated with a BSc(Hons)1979 and he received his PhD in Physical and Inorganic Chemistry from UWA in 1984 under the supervision of Professor Don Watts and Dr Jack Harrowfield. Following post-doctoral positions with Professors TW Swaddle at the University of Calgary, Canada (1983-4), W Marty at the Institut de Chimie Universite de Neuchatel, Switzerland (1984-6) and Alan Sargeson ANU in Canberra in (1986-7), he was appointed as Lecturer in Chemistry at Monash University in Melbourne in 1987. He was promoted to Reader in Chemistry in 1999 and Professor in 2006.
Leone's research on solar energy conversion was exploring the application of metal complexes in dye-sensitised solar cells, the development of lead iodide perovskite based thin film solar cells, water splitting devices for the production of hydrogen as a clean and renewable energy source. The research devised a new way to split water into hydrogen, a fuel, and oxygen with an efficiency of 22%, the highest recorded so far. His research focussed on the development of metal complexes and inorganic materials which mimic metallo-enzymes, aid the understanding of geochemical and environmental processes or can be applied in solar energy conversion, cancer diagnosis and therapy, recombinant protein purification and biosensing.
He has held major administrative positions at Monash University including Deputy Head of the School of Chemistry 2002-6 and Deputy Dean and Associate Dean Research of the Faculty of Science 2006-8. He was a member of the ARC College of Experts 2008-10 and Chair of the Physics, Chemistry and Earth Sciences Panel 2010. He was a member of the international advisory boards of several leading journals including Nano energy and Inorganic Chemistry.
He had a strong record in postgraduate supervision having supervised 55 students and more than 50 post-doctoral fellows. In 2005, in recognition of his supervisory excellence he received the Vice-Chancellors Award for Postgraduate Supervision.
Both Leone's children Nadia and Nicolas studied chemistry and he was able to lecture them instilling the value of education like his parents had done for him. He was a great father who loved to watch his children play sports and celebrate all the family achievements with a nice meal and a good glass of wine. Once the children had grown up, Leone and Vivien travelled widely to chemistry conferences and appointments living all over the world, especially Germany, advancing the cause of chemistry.
Leone always continued his love of sports playing social cricket all over the world. He often played squash with his colleagues. Later in life he loved hiking and walking. He also enjoyed watching any sport but especially loved going to watch the West Coast Eagles play.
Leone was an inspirational chemist, who was kind and generous to all, mentoring and influencing many young chemists from all over the world throughout his career. He was proud that his students came from all over the world. He has left an incredible international scientific legacy. He was a man who kept promises and honoured commitment. He was intelligent, scholarly and had a diligent work ethic. He was a man of integrity in all that he did and was generous with all he had. He had a wonderful smile and sense of humour.
Although his time came too soon he lived life to the fullest. He experienced so much that only some of us can dream of and he never wasted a moment. We feel comforted that he accomplished more than he could have imagined as a young boy in Sinagra. We his family, friends and colleagues will always be proud and hold him dear in our hearts and minds.