Alexandria (“Alexis”) Demas Leras, 80, died Monday, March 1, after a year-long battle with cancer. She was at her home in Reading, Massachusetts, surrounded by her loving family.
Born on November 21, 1940, in New York City, to Nick and Stella Demas, she attended school in Yonkers, NY before moving with her family to Florida. She was a 1958 graduate of Seabreeze High School and earned a degree in English from Florida State University in 1962, where she was also a member of the Sigma Kappa sorority. For many years, Alexandria served at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Daytona Beach as a Sunday school teacher and choir member.
In June of 1962, Alexandria married Nick Leras, her husband of forty-six years, in Daytona Beach, Florida, and began teaching English at Mainland High School. She joined the Palmetto Club Juniors and was named Clubwoman of the Year in 1967 and helped start the Junior League thrift store. She later worked as a reporter at the Daytona Beach News-Journal before joining NASCAR as a secretary in the mid-1970s. Alexis was eventually promoted to Director of Public Relations by Bill France, Jr. and became the first woman to hold such a senior position in the sport.
Alexis was a real pioneer for women in motorsports, advocating for and becoming one of the first women to be allowed in a NASCAR garage, an area strictly off-limits to women. Throughout her career she was passionate about supporting and mentoring other young women starting their careers in motorsports. In 1978, Alexis was instrumental in organizing the first visit to the White House by NASCAR drivers at the invitation of President Jimmy Carter. She later went on to organize the first NASCAR Awards Banquet, which was held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in 1981. This is recognized as a turning point for NASCAR, as it sought to break free from its southern, regional roots and become a national sport. NASCAR’s descent on the Big Apple at the end of the racing season became a tradition for the next twenty-eight years.
In the early 1980s, Alexis left NASCAR to join Melling Racing, where she helped promote a media-shy Bill Elliott. In 1984, she organized the Bill Elliott Fan Club and the fan voting campaign that led to Elliott being named Most Popular Driver year after year. She continued her work with Melling Racing when P.J. Jones joined the team in the early 1990s. She later worked with the Bahre family at the New Hampshire International Speedway before retiring. Alexis also had a walk-on cameo role in the Burt Reynolds’s film “Stroker Ace” (1983) and several times was asked to sing the national anthem at the Winston Cup races, often at the last minute. In 2015, she was featured in the Fox Sports documentary “A Perfect Storm: 1979 Daytona 500.”
In 1999, Alexis and Nick moved to Amherst, MA where they became involved in the Five Colleges Learning In Retirement and competed in the Senior Games. She also volunteered as a docent at the Renaissance Center and the Jones Library in Amherst. She was an active member of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Holyoke.
Alexandria was predeceased by her husband Nick, and leaves behind her loving son James and beloved daughter-in-law Sofya, cherished grandchildren Stella and Nicholas, who filled her life with great love and joy; her devoted Goddaughter Fanoula (Michael) Abate, of whom she was so proud; loving cousins Betty (Paul) Benjou, George (Patty) Stamatis, George Demas, Kathryn (Norm) Wilcox, Judy (Chip) Attwood, John (Christine) Diopoulos, Jacqui (Dimitri) Argyres, Georgia Benjou, John (Rita) Anagnost, Georgianna (Michael) Grogan, Andrea (Craig) Flemming, Andreana Argyres, Bill (Bridget) Attwood, Amy Binkowski, Karen (Larry) DeLeon, Marilyn Geaneas; and close friends Becky (Chris) Theos, Susan Russo, Karen (Billy) Woodruff, Sandy Lillydahl, Ann Holland, Beth Brown, Neve Hanke, Janet (Johan) Brongers, as well as her many friends in the racing community who graciously reached out and supported her over the past year.
Services will be private at St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church in Peabody, MA. Burial will be at Wildwood Cemetery in Amherst. Arrangements by the Conway Cahill-Brodeur Funeral Home, 82 Lynn St., Peabody, MA. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Alexandria’s memory to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105.