This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men-go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers or families-re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.
By Walt Whitman from Preface to LEAVES OF GRASS , 1855
January 12th 1936 – October 18th 2011
David ben Moshe v’Gittel
I found out just a few days ago that Ron built the wooden memorial board in our sanctuary – just one of the many projects designed and built by this extraordinary man who has lived such an interesting life. This project has helped us eternalize the memories of so many loved ones in our community and today, and today it is the architect himself whose memory we honor.
Seeing Ron in recent years in his Colorado habitat, typically wearing a cowboy hat, you might have assumed he was a native, but his roots were definitely in New York. He was born and raised, educated and married in Brooklyn. He was born on January 12th 1936 to Murray and Augusta and had a somewhat complicated childhood with a mother who was a successful business woman, but a very nervous mother.
Bev was 12 when she first met Ron, who was about a year older than her and lived across the street from Bev’s best friend. According to Bev, Ron was so different to the other boys, not interested in playing stickball in the street, but was so bright and always talking about interesting things, with an appreciation for art, swimming and boats from a young age. Bev was in awe of this deep and insightful young man and these high school sweethearts got married in 1956, fifty five years of being utterly devoted to one another, and I had a few conversations with Ron about how hard it was for him, knowing that he was going to be leaving Bev behind.
Ron went to Brooklyn College and to Pratt College in Brooklyn, where he ultimately trained as an architect, although he was seriously considering photography for a while, and where his granddaughter Sasha may be going next year, which was a very exciting possibility for Ron. Ron was an apprentice at Knoll Furniture, where he designed and built beautiful things, allowing his very keen aesthetic senses and skills to develop and we are so blessed that Ron’s legacy includes so many stylish objects that he created. From Knoll he went to Skidmore, a large firm of architects, which was challenging for Ron who was hardly a corporate guy and was famous for saying on Fridays “I’m leaving early, but don’t worry I’ll be in late on Monday.” Eventually, Ron was self-employed and over his career as an architect he designed many buildings, mostly residential, but also a hospital in downtown Manhattan, a post office and a condominium complex in Great Neck, Long Island. He also designed the family summer house in Sag Harbor and interiors and furniture of the various homes throughout their life together, including boats and their RV, in which Ron and Bev loved their adventures to the South West and were so hoping for more road trips.
Ron’s great skills were not just for buildings and furniture; he rebuilt and renovated old cars, fixed anything electrical, plumbing, car mechanics, and even had phases of dancing, jazz and bread baking. He even co-founded, ran and wrote for a local newspaper in Niwot, The Left Hand Valley Courier. Tamah and Deborah both said that he inspired such confidence in all that he did, because he was so competent.
Gabriel has so many exciting childhood memories of helping out in the workshop in the basement of their Brooklyn Brownstone house, or being taken off to some of the building sites of the various projects his dad was working on, or the sailing trips getting lost in the fog. Ron always had sharp insights and out of the box wisdom to offer his children and grandchildren. Gabriel said that he always, even up to the end, wanted to have a project of some kind going on, so that he would wake up with something to think about and focus on. The project that he was working on most recently was designing his own grave stone with friend and artist Jessica Adams, as if even his own approaching death was actually another project of his life, to leave more beauty in the world. Ron’s illness was the source of much frustration that he did not have the energy in his body to do what his mind and imagination were still planning. Interestingly, much of Ron’s work was not quite finished, with subtle pieces of work still to be done, a corner here or there. Ron was a perfectionist and if something was complete, it had to be perfect, so perhaps he was consciously or unconsciously acknowledging that perfection is not possible. We could even say this about Ron’s own life. While he knew and accepted that he was dying, he certainly had more that he wanted to do; more projects, more time with Bev, but like some of his work, the artistry of Ron’s life will have to be complete in its incompleteness.
In Judaism, there is also a tradition of leaving a part of house unpainted or unbuilt as recognition of our exile. I am certainly not going to pretend that Ron was a religious man, far from it; he was pretty much a confirmed atheist, but he had a strong Jewish identity and great respect and support for Bev’s connection to religious life and to the community. Even here at Bonai Shalom, we are blessed to have some of Ron’s legacy. As well as the memorial board I already mentioned, Ron designed the portable ark we use for our High Holiday services, our kitchen and was also involved in the remodel of my house! Ron had a plan for a complete remodel of our building and we have the model here today. He served on the board as chair of our facilities committee and I met him before I had even been offered the job here, as he proudly showed me round my future house and shared the plans for the remodel. Ron and Bev also travelled in 2005 to Israel with Bonai Shalom and he loved this trip. In spite of his evident skepticism about God and religion, Ron gave a tremendous amount to this community.
Ron was not always easy in his straightforward, undiplomatic ways, sometimes telling clients back in the day that they had no taste and that he wouldn’t work with them. At its core, this directness was the expression of a man with depth and integrity. There was not a lazy bone in Ron’s body; he was active, creative, courageous, enthusiastic, iconoclastic, unconventional, tactless at times, adaptable, sharp, perceptive and inquisitive. Ron was always open to learning something new and always had interesting friends, with such an ability to see the good in people, to see their essence, beyond conventional norms.
As Ron’s son in law Tom said, Ron was such a solid presence and it is not possible to distill the life and work of this wonderful and complex man into a series of anecdotes. Ron the architect, Ron the devoted husband, Ron the great and caring father, father-in-law and loving, encouraging and proud grandfather. Each of these Rons leaves a legacy and the memory of this man will live on as a blessing in the beautiful objects and people who are left behind to honor him.
Zichrono livracha – May his memory be a blessing.
Strength and comfort to you Bev, to Tamah and Tom, Gabriel and Deborah and to Sasha and Carlos.