Two weeks ago, one of my dearest friends died after a battle with cancer.
Ron Porter was a fellow classmate from the Class of 1971, and while our lives didn’t intersect much in the years that followed, we kept in touch sporadically. Nevertheless, I consider my life immeasurably blessed to have shared the planet with him.
We first met in sixth grade when my family moved to Wyoming. We were in the same class, and even then, Ron’s sense of humor was ever-present and ever visible. The guy was hilarious, and I instantly liked him.
Our friendship had to overcome a major hurdle though: I bested Ron in a grade-school foot race. Throughout the years whenever we met, exchanged messages on Facebook or reminisced at class reunions, he had to bring it up. He couldn’t believe he’d been outrun by a girl. Thankfully, he never once asked for a rematch.
In high school, Ron had perfected his classic turkey walk – a kind of barnyard saunter complete with a forward-and-back, chin-out neck twitch guaranteed to cause a giggle in the sternest of teachers. Little did we know how walking like a Thanksgiving gobbler could always diffuse a situation.
As teenagers, we shared many a class. In senior English, when “cooperative learning” became the vogue, our teacher put Ron, fellow classmate Ray and me in a group. We were studying medieval something-or-other and left the librarian hoarse with her near-constant “shushing.” I don’t recall the grade we received or the content of our project, but what a great time we had.
And I can’t forget the time Ron and some pals walked in front of Patsy and me headed to lunch in her VW Bug. As we navigated students and cars leaving the parking lot (not nearly as many as with today’s high schools), the guys inched toward us until Patsy stopped her car. Then, Ron ceremoniously walked up and over her Bug, as if we were merely a bump in the road.
Today, we’re all sharing insights and remembrances on social media. Mine are a smattering compared to those of Ron’s family, friends, teammates, colleagues, neighbors and students. Collectively, it’s truly a tale of a life well-lived with lots of love and laughter – something we could all use more of in these unparalleled times.
One of my favorite quotes is from author Hunter S. Johnson (1937-2005) and best illustrates the positive nature of Ron’s life: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’”
Two friends and I visited Ron in person in late February when his illness had really begun to take a toll. I was glad I got to see him and reminisce at length about old times. He didn’t remember Patsy’s car but offered a sly “sounds like me.”
He did, however, bemoan one last time my outrunning him in sixth grade. I think he’s over it now.
As the Good Book says, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” This time, Ron, it’s you who won the race… .