When you get an early morning call from a friend who rarely uses the phone to communicate, you have the feeling that there may be bad news. And indeed the news was very bad on that morning of May 22, 2010. Randy Kunkel called to let me know that our good friend Ron Wisner had died in a mountain biking accident on the previous afternoon. Accounts of the accident can be found here, here and here.
I was in Malibu teaching a summer course in Tumor Biology, but quickly made plans to return to Colorado for Ron's Memorial Service at Hillside Gardens in Colorado Springs. At the memorial, I had the honor to be among those that the family asked to say a few words about Ron and to contribute to a book celebrating Ron's remarkable life. Here are my remarks:
Although there will no doubt be many great words spoken here today, I believe that the greatest tribute to Ron is the gathering of all of you who are here. Looking out, I see students, faculty, staff and friends of UCCS; I see runners and tennis players; I see members of the greater Colorado Springs community; and I see many faces that I do not know. The breadth of the circles of Ron’s influence is represented by you all.
There are many folks who pass through this life waiting for life’s experiences to come to them; then there are others who actively and vigorously search out a variety of life experiences. I think that we all know where Ron was on this scale, and I believe that I see the same attitude in Jane, in Sara, in Mark and in Laura.
I can honestly say that I do not remember the first time that I met Ron, but I can say that it did not take long for us to become friends. Ron was an “easy” friend, maybe because we shared so much in our backgrounds and in our perspectives – after all, how many chicken farmers from the Midwest are there at UCCS?? I think that the only major character flaw that I could identify in Ron was that he did not play basketball!! In thinking of how our friendship got started, I believe it is was because we both believed that all UCCS employees should be good citizens of the academy regardless of one’s position as Dean of Students, professor of biology, or whatever. Thus we were both committed to supporting the varied activities of the University – after all it is a “uni – versity” – and we would see each other at sporting events, at theater productions, at lectures on various topics, at Gallery openings, etc. Gallery openings were especially important because they would be accompanied by free food and often, most importantly, desserts and beer!
Although Ron did not join in our regular basketball games, I did join him in running. We probably ran thousands of miles together, often joined by Luis Lowe, or by the Grand Masters, or the Garden Training Group, or by – well the list is long. We covered every trail on the Austin Bluffs above UCCS, and many places that could not be considered trails. The UCCS administrators would have been happy to know that we solved virtually every problem of the University, and many of the world’s problems as well – it was very therapeutic!
Of the myriad traits and characteristics that I saw in Ron as we worked together and recreated together – commitment to excellence, belief that everyone can achieve to the best of their abilities, commitment to justice, to inclusiveness, and to conflict resolution – I would like to mention two of the most important: encouragement and affirmation.
I suspect that everyone here has received encouragement from Ron. Luis Lowe could not be here today, but shared a story with me that I believe relates to Ron’s encouraging nature. Luis and Ron were preparing for the Denver Marathon – Ron, the seasoned veteran mentor, and Luis, the novice. Ron rightly knew that Luis was ready and able, but Luis had doubts. Early on race day morning, Ron called Luis – “Are you ready to go?” Luis – “I am not going.” Ron – “Are you sure?” Luis – “I am not going.” Two minutes later the phone rings, and it is the same simple question, not pressuring or provoking – “Luis, are you sure?” Luis – “Ron, I am not going.” A couple more minutes, the phone rings again – “Luis, are you sure?” Luis – “Ron, if you stop calling me, I will go!!!” And, as Ron knew, Luis ran a fine marathon debut, in 3:22; Ron ran 3:07 but would have been much faster if he had not talked with all of the policemen and most of the spectators along the race course. My time was a fair amount under Ron’s, but I only ran the 10K.
I also suspect that everyone here has received affirmation from Ron. When Rhonda and I left Colorado Springs for our California adventure, Ron graciously agreed to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf. It is filled with affirming words, carefully crafted by a colleague and friend, and it is something that I will always treasure.
Randy has said some of the very things that I have been thinking - he said that Ron was like a brother to him. Indeed, Ron was the closest thing to a brother that I willl ever have. Ron's absence will leave a hole in each of our lives, but I believe that the bigger the hole, the greater the circumference around the hole represents the impact that Ron had our our lives. We all have been enriched by knowing Ron. Vaya con Dios, mi hermano, and we will see you on the trails.
The Grand Masters
Luis Lowe [seated]
Bob McAndrews, Yours Truly, Jim Brummage, Ron Wisner & Randy Kunkel