In Memory of Ron

Ron and I first met in September of 1970. We were assigned to the same freshman dorm, Holworthy Hall, at Harvard. Ron said he came from a small town, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, had studied Latin and Greek, and might major in classics. That background made him unique, but what I remember most about Ron back then was his kindness and his sincerity, endangered traits among Harvard freshmen. For the remainder of the four years, Ron and I moved into nearby dorms next to the Charles River. Occasionally, we’d run into each other as we walked back after class and he’d tell me about working as the manager of the football team.

Two decades went by as Ron and I took parallel pathways into the world of educational innovation, through foundations and public television. I went to Sesame Workshop and then to San Francisco to work at the PBS station, KQED. We both returned to the Harvard campus, to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, but during different years, although we shared many connections to faculty, students, and programs there.

Ron has been described as a teacher’s teacher. There can be no higher praise. In fact, he was constantly teaching all of us, through his ideas, his actions, his life.

Ron and I reconnected during his years at the Rhode Island Foundation. He invited me to a workshop for teachers, at which they would receive their first laptop, one of the earliest 1:1 programs. Ron understood that the critical person in technology implementations was the teacher. When I arrived, I witnessed for the first time a classroom full of teachers, each with the identical laptop, “lids up,” and an energetic buzz in the air. When I looked more closely at what they were doing, they were using a spreadsheet to do their family finances or organizing their recipes or bridge clubs into a database. A little concerned, I said to Ron, “They’re not doing things related to the curriculum.” He smiled and said, “Just wait. When they get excited about using technology in their own lives, they’ll transmit that excitement to their students.” An important lesson from Ron.

When Ron was considering moving to a new job at WNET, he called me and asked what I thought of working at a PBS station. I told him I enjoyed working with public TV people in an important public service mission, but that it required constant fundraising. I also told him WNET wasn’t any ordinary PBS station and, that being in New York, he could do some great things. Shortly after he took the job, he told me he was considering doing a conference for educators in the Tri-State area. I told him, “There are lots of conferences for educators.” He replied, “Yes, but not one that focuses on teachers, treats them like professionals, and exposes them to inspiring and creative people they don’t usually get to hear.” That became the Celebration of Teaching and Learning, the unique convening that Ron imagined. Another lesson from Ron: Have the courage of your convictions. You might need to work very long hours and sweat all the details, but it’s worth it.

When Ron took the position at the National Board, I congratulated him. I told him I liked seeing the title, CEO, next to his name, that his personal qualities, coupled with his professional expertise, destined him for this role. Ron and I also shared having one daughter, similar in age, his Katie and mine, Maggie. We were proud fathers and, in every conversation, asked how they were doing during their transitions from college students to young professionals.

And Margaret. We began our careers at Sesame Workshop and when Ron told me of meeting and falling in love with her, it was my turn to smile. I thought, “These two people were meant for each other.” The joy and happiness of your partnership has been a joy to witness. You made Ron complete. He could not have done what he’s done without you.

Last summer, Ron was in San Francisco and we went to a Giants game. We talked about his persistent cough, for which he said he would be seeing his doctor. Even in his final year, Ron was teaching me again: Life is short, whether you live to be 60 or 90. Follow your passions, be of service, take care of the ones you love.

I’ll miss you, my good friend, and will carry the lessons you taught me, always.