Wednesday, May 4, 2011

RIP Ron Miller

If you're a Forester, the name Ron Miller probably instantaneously sends you back to your days at Lake Forest College. To at least a couple of generations of Foresters, Ron was Lake Forest College. As the Dean of Students, Ron was at the same time our champion and also someone to be a little bit feared. As a professor of religion, Ron was tolerant of everyone and made religion relevant in ways most of us probably had never experienced before.

Ron died today. I don't know the details other than what's currently on Facebook. That he was in New York City and had had a late night/early morning conversation with his son, Jim about how he wasn't feeling well. A few hours later, Jim got a call from the NYPD that his dad was dead.

When I heard he news at work today, I'll admit I cried a few tears.

College was not an easy time for me and at a number of points, I seriously considered leaving LFC for (what I perceived to be) the greener pastures of two well-known universities, where in hindsight, I would not have flourished. Over a number of conversations in his office, Ron convinced me to stay and gave me a great deal of sage advice, some of which I followed and some of which I was too headstrong to follow. All of which, 20 years later, I wish I'd taken.

When my mom tried to kill herself in June 1992, Ron called me early on a Saturday morning at my mom's house to tell me that whatever I needed would be taken care of. It was two days before my summer school final exam and he told me he'd already spoken to my professor and I could take the final when I returned to school, but that should be on my own timetable. I took my final exam in a stress-free environment about 10 days later and was never made to feel bad about the fact that my professor had to give up some of his summer vacation to accommodate me. When I finally returned to campus, there were notes in my mailbox from multiple professors and senior staff members offering me whatever support I needed (even though I had not reached out to anyone) and I learned I'd been given a single dorm room for the summer and would not be having a roommate move in. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe not. I've always assumed not because that's the kind of place LFC is and that's who Ron was.

There was a phrase for those students that Ron took under his wing. They were simply known as "Ron's Kids" and for years I looked a bit enviously on those special chosen classmates, until I recently realized that I was one of them too, even if I didn't share all the same qualities they did.

For many years, Ron and my cousin Alan (also a Forester) were close friends, and Al and Ron and I shared many social dinners after I moved back to Chicago. We shared dinners in Glenview and Highland Park and even watched movies at Ron's apartment. No matter how long it had been since I'd spent time with Ron, it was like time had stood still and conversation flowed easily.

Without hesitation, my favorite Ron moment took place in December 2006. The morning of the First Annual Marshall Field's Memorial Dinner & Christmas Party, my cousin Alan called to ask if he could bring Ron. The fact that I hate to turn anyone away from a dinner party combined with a few last minute cancellations meant we had room, so I said of course. The more the merrier. As it turned out, dinner was almost entirely comprised of Foresters. Tim, Tony, Ron, Alan, Christopher, my brother Dave (a Forester by blood only) and me. Always the religion professor, Ron gave the blessing that night and from there, conversation went straight downhill. I can't tell you everything we discussed (this is a family blog afterall), but I can tell you the conversation spanned from world events to celebrity gossip (and everything in between) and I can't remember a time I've laughed so hard for so many hours in a row.

In the midst of a conversation on pop culture, Ron jumps in with "Who's this Ropa woman I hear so much about? She's all over the television. You know R-O-P-A." Conversation stopped and we all looked at each other confused, as if to say "who the hell is Ropa?" And Ron asks us again. "Who is Ropa? She's got that talk show?" "Oh, you mean OPRAH!" Tim says confidently (since he and Tony live across the street from Harpo Studios). "Yes! Yes! That's her! Ropa!" Ron says as we all about fall under our chairs laughing, with him, not at him.

I have no idea where the conversation went from there, but I do know that we were all glued to our chairs at the dinner table until the wee hours of the morning, laughing so hard our sides hurt. The conversation was extraordinary, but the friends around the table were better. As always, Ron challenged us to be our best selves and we all left just a bit better than when we'd arrived.

Whether we were 18 or 38, Ron let us be ourselves. Heck, he expected us to be ourselves and wouldn't have put up with anything less. He created the environment for us to discover who we were and what we believed. And even though he's no longer with us, generations to come will benefit from Ron's peace loving, embrace everyone sort of ways.

In his passing today, Ron leaves a legacy far and wide. He touched more lives than he will ever know and he found his unique superhero powers that allowed him to leave the world a better place. Like many Foresters, I will miss him, but when faced with a challenge will answer it with the question "WWRD (What Would Ron Do)?" I miss him and wish I'd made it a point to tell him of the impact he had on me, but tonight I'm especially glad I had the privilege of having Ron in my life.


  1. A lovely tribute, Jessica. I've been wanting to post something, but have felt shocked and speechless. I will miss Ron deeply, but know that he has touched many lives. Not just the ones of whom he has met personally, but those who knew his friends. My entire family is mourning, as they all knew of Ron and his impact just by hearing me talk about him through the years. His legacy is strong.

  2. I loved what you wrote, Little Mary Sunshine! Couldn't have said it better, myself! I met Ron when Common Ground convened @ Immaculate Conception in HP. It was great reconnecting w/him when I started working @ LFC in the late 80s -- my favorite teacher! I continued to follow his work by attending his classes @ Oasis, NSSC, and various churches/temples/synagogues where he was invited to speak. To say that his spiritual presence will continue to be felt indefinitely is an understatement. He influenced and even transformed so many lives, mine included, by both his work and his charismatic personality that I'm sure all who knew him would agree that he made the world a better place. My heart goes out to his loved ones at their sudden loss. May we all be comforted by the memories of him that we share and strengthened to bear up and carry on the work that meant so much to him.


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