World War ll veterans. Founding members of the Portland arts community. Lake County people who worked with “Oregon Desert” rancher Reub Long. The Pendleton Round-up’s oldest living rodeo queen and oldest rodeo clown and oldest rodeo announcer. The first Mexican-American resident of St. Paul…
For me, the downside of meeting other people late in their lives has been sometimes seeing those lives come to an end. Several of the folks featured in our 6 years of Oregon Experience programs have passed away. And even when they’ve been in their 80’s or 90’s, we still always feel surprised and more than a little sad.
The most recent of these deaths was that of Ron Abell. A longtime writer and journalist, Ron worked on the 1968 campaign of Senator Wayne Morse. Ron played an important role in our “Wayne Morse” episode, as well.
Recently, I learned from a couple of his friends that Ron was quite ill and had only a few days to live. And this was more than two weeks before the Morse program would air.
“Ron would like to see the show,” one friend wrote, and of course, I was eager for him to see it. A second friend came to OPB the next day, picked up a DVD of the program and drove to Ron’s apartment. She said that Ron was shy about the prospect of watching it, that he feared he might not look good and that he might wait a couple days before viewing the disk.
Apparently, he changed his mind, because that same afternoon I received an email:
“Thanks for the opportunity to see an advanced preview of the Morse piece. It was a fair and balanced piece of work, as I knew it would be. Congratulations on a job well done. Sorry I won’t have a chance to tell you in person. All the best, Ron Abell “
Five days later, Ron died.
Several Op-Ed pieces and letters about Ron appeared soon after in the newspapers. I had not known that this humble, reclusive man had so many friends. All the obits and testimonials seemed to say what I already knew: that Ron Abell was a neat guy.
I am sorry for our loss. But I’m glad that at least we Oregon-history people were able to introduce other Oregonians to Ron… and to Kaz and Bussie, Monk, Kathryn, Orlin and, well, everyone else on the ever-growing list.