A black-and-white photograph of Ronald J. Simmons, looked out at the audience.
The life of Ronald Jonathan Simmons was celebrated recently. Born in Oyster Bay on October 4, 1960, he attended Oyster Bay schools; graduated in the Class of 1978, went on to a career in business, married, and had three children. Diagnosed with the genetic disease sickle cell anemia, he went into dialysis but never let the disease define his life. He died on November 27, 2008, after contracting a rare form of cancer from his second kidney transplant. He was victorious in life, always looking for the positive and bringing people together to share in his life experience.
On Sunday, Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Sunday, his family and friends met in the Oyster Bay High School Performing Arts Center where he trod the boards in many performances including The King and I, near the gymnasium (now the library) where he was a star basketball player.
Ron's brother Karl Simmons, the first speaker, said that Ron united everyone. "He loved the differences between people. He was a leader, protector and partner. To know Ron was to know he would lead you in a positive direction; you would never be alone; your heart was in good hands. There never was a better person as a father, brother, parent, husband," he said.
The family lived on Mill River Road, with a basketball hoop in the backyard. Ron was an avid and excellent athlete. He would grab his three brothers and their friends for a game of 3 on 1 or 5 on 1. Karl said, "Ron would say, 'Were going to play 21. I'm going to give you 20 points and I get the ball first.' He would always win 21 to 20. When we didn't want to do it again, he would say, 'no I need the practice. I'll give you 20 points. I get the ball first and I play left-handed,' - and he won by 21 to 20. He kept that competitive personality all his life in everything that he did.
"He managed the family thrift shop in Queens Village. I was still in college and the store was packed - but people were hanging out with brother Ron. He got into real estate with the man in the next store. The fellow loved him. He said 'there are houses we can buy, fix up and turn around.' Ron did that for several years, and he enjoyed it.
"Then he met his wife and decided to move to Richmond, VA, to work with his cousin in engineering design and development. He was great to work with. Engineering services were something Ron didn't know anything about, but he learned," said Karl.
"Ron seemed to be always up doing something. We decided to go into the document business together. I would fly out to do pitches about the services at 5:30 a.m. He would go to dialysis, still working on a presentation, and then leave and go to meetings." They would go home, and still be talking late into the night six days a week.
Karl said, "Through it all, till the last day, he was trying to get a deal done or encouraging us to work better to get a deal done and work together."
His cousin Rick Pilgrim said he talked Ron into going to Richmond, VA. "Karl's right, Ron had no clue about engineering but he knew the business world very well. We had a lot of struggles, with paying the workers. He always found the money. We worked together to keep 25 people employed for 14 years."
In Richmond, Ron won the Entrepreneur of the Year award; the Businessman of the Year award from the Small Business Administration and the Virginia Business Minority Award. He was written up on the front page of the Richmond Times Dispatch that talked about how Ron, after losing a kidney, didn't change his goals.
Mr. Pilgrim said a memorial service was held for him in the Richmond business community, "A lot of tears flowed. All he wanted to do was to help people in any way. He helped me by coming down to help my business and making sure my dreams came to fruition."
Ron's brother Abraham, now an attorney in San Francisco, said there were reasons for coming home to Oyster Bay. He recognized the same school lockers, and saw the cafeteria for the first time in 27-odd years. He thanked Cecelia Frontero and the Bock family for feeding him and putting him up; for the Colvins for everything the last night; and to David Goldfader for getting the word out and to Neal Bernstein, too. He thanked everyone for being so loving.
He said this was the third of the Simmons' children to die: "Diana and Lynn died first. It never gets easier. Fifty-three days ago we lost a hero, at least a hero to me." He said Ron's message was that "We all have to love each other beyond what we think; and to work harder than we think today. That each of us has the capacity to find purpose and meaning in life and satisfaction for setting up for battle, even when logic tells us we will sustain deep losses. He was a hero in the way he led his life and faced his death in San Francisco. He had an important message for us, to learn to forgive each other - if only to get things done."
Abraham said, "It was between the walls of this building that he became student council president and a good student, most of the time. He always found ways to have fun."
He said, "When he left for Hamilton College, I started at OBHS. Oyster Bay did not seem to want to let him go. Everyone called me 'Little Ronnie'. Ms. Colvin and Mr. Mac advised me to stop them so I could blaze my own trail. But the name 'Little Ronnie' was a shortcut to popularity and respect. But Karl too was called 'Little Ronnie'. Being associated with Ron was great.
"In the meantime Ron was having a great time in college. His friends from there are here. In Hamilton he excelled in track and field and some of his records still hold."
Another good feature of Ron's: He was good at choosing friends. His attitude was that "there was no good reason not to reach out," added Abraham.
Scott Amoye said, "I met him in 1980 at Hamilton. He was walking across campus and he stopped me to talk. He was wearing clogs, a cardigan and a cab driver's hat. He told me he was a philosophy major and on the track team. He was on the indoor track team doing the long and triple jump.
"The basketball coach decided to build a team of the younger kids. It was a benefit to the track team. He willed himself to get better and in two years he was an MVP for the state and pulled in some records and qualified for the Nationals in the 100."
In the end, Mr. Amoye said, "His body failed him but his mind was still there. He could be grumpy. He told the nurses he didn't want to be a guinea pig for them. Later he said, 'Okay! You can do it.' His dignity and courage was amazing."
He told how Ron got his job with Merrill Lynch. "He was there for an exploration interview. At the end the interviewer said, 'We'll call.' And Ron opened his eyes wide and sat up straight. He said, 'I'm sorry. I can't accept that. I know you are in a position to give me a job if you accept me.' And a few weeks later he was working at Merrill Lynch."
Ron invited Scott to visit Oyster Bay. He found himself in the midst of a happy family. "He treated you like family and it was a fully functioning family and he wanted you to be part of it."
He was never negative, said Scott. "He wanted to know what was going on in your life."
One of the memorial organizers, Mary Ellen Mierdierks, told the group that Ron D'Amico bought a seat in the auditorium for Ron: it is in Row J, Seat 10. After the evening closed, people went to see the brass plaque with his name on it.
Another organizer, Cecelia Frontero, said at age 12 Ron became her protector. They sang and acted together in school. "He had a magnificent singing voice and was a gifted actor. He played the Kralahome in The King and I and he delivered a Lynne that made me cry. I felt he was angry at me but I got a big hug."
The two worked together one summer at the Mill River Club. "What a magical time. We teased people by telLynng them we were sibLynngs. I visited him in Hamilton where he was breaking records. Watching Ronnie run was a poetic experience."
She said when she visited him at the hospital he told her he ordered her a cobb salad. "I had never had a cobb salad and had been thinking of having one. He did stuff like that," she said.
"He would leave saying 'See ya!' The gift he gave me was to allow me to help him at the end of his life. He gave me moments of unmitigated joy. He could lift the spirits of everyone - even mine."
She said, "Our friendship started with him helping me and ended with me helping him. It was one of the greatest honors of my life. Sleep well my dear friend. I'll see ya!"
Dwight Crossfield shared some memories. "Lynn, Ron and I were all drummers when we played in the elementary school band. We played Fidgits, do they still play that?" "Yes," said the audience.
"I think of Ron and the music, the song, What You Can't Do for Love by Charles Benson, we used to play the tape."
He said there was a greeting in black churches, instead of saying goodbye, saying, "We'll meet you at the crossroads." It is done with a wave of the hand. He showed the audience how, and together they waved as he said, "We'll meet you at the crossroads."
Rosemarie Colvin, one of Ron's teachers at OBHS said, "When Ron went to pick up his sister Diana after dialysis he would get a bunch of kids in the car so she would feel happy. After that he too was in dialysis. I think Ron was always a treasure to us.
"Over 30 years ago he walked these halls and you sensed he would be part of the academic leadership; and a sports leader. He had a spirit of courage; and kindness; and an abiding goodness and love he shared with us.
"He weathered problems with optimism; he shared his life with us, sending pictures of his family. He had an unforgettable smile and you could hear it in his words on the phone. He reminded us to do and be the best we could. This is the best memorial. He was one of the best people we have ever known," she said.
Richard McManus, another of Ron's teachers, confided that he was a terrible dancer. He said, "Ron would laugh with his whole body when I attempted to dance." Mr. McManus said, "I brought my son Kevin to watch Ron play basketball. He said, 'Dad, I could never do that' - and he didn't."
Mary Ellen Mierdierks said they kept in touch over the years through Christmas cards, telephone calls and then the Internet when they planned the class reunion. "We wanted to see how we could make Ron feel a part of the reunion. We did get to have him put into the Oyster Bay High School Hall of Fame.
"He was such an awful tease but then he would smile and give you a bear hug. Ron's gift was making people feel at ease. You were the most important thing. It was a heartfelt friendship. A few days before he died he was consoLynng me. He said, 'In the end it's not the years in our life that count but the life in those years.' I challenge all of you to do the same thing," she said.
Gary Schacter came from Chicago to say goodbye to his friend. After speaking he said it was very cleansing. He felt better.
He said, "I met Ron in basketball in 1972. I was 11 years old. I was playing at the Bermingham School and was at the pinnacle of my career - at 11. I had to guard Ronnie. All I thought was how glad I was because from now on he was going to be on my team. That's 36 years ago.
"In 1972 and '74 we went to Phillips Exeter Baseball Camp in Maine. We were walking into a convenience store when the owner's son put out his arm and stopped Ron from coming in. I said 'please let my friend in' and he said he was doing crowd control - that kids were steaLynng Three Musketeer bars!
"On the way home that summer, (riding in the Simmons' family car) we pulled a practical joke, I stuck up my left leg and he stuck up his right leg and we stuck them out the car window, one black and one white leg. It was pretty funny to the drivers behind us.
"He lived life fully and was not passive. (Athough they said they weren't religious,) they had a Christmas tree. The family was singing. The food was spicy. I never had food with such flavor. They served black beans and rice. I never had pork before. We shared cultures. At my bar mitzvah we smoked two or three cigars and we turned the same color - green.
"We were basketball champs and in 1977 we won the North Shore title.
"He introduced me to jazz, and the comedians Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby. He taught me disco dancing in the basement of my house. He taught me charity - to the Kidney Foundation."
Kim Mogul said, "Ron gave me the gift of dancing, Disco dancing in the '70s. Love doesn't die, people do."
David Chin was taking photographs of the afternoon. He said it was a wonderful class. "They bought me a class ring. I left in my senior year but they kept in touch. I was an exchange student who went to the Phillipines. It was reverse discrimination; they couldn't believe I was an American."
He said, "Ron was very visible. He was tall. I'm short. He would say - come with me. He was always very inclusive. He wanted me to play basketball with him but then said, 'Dave, it's not your sport.' I went on to do gymnastics, and tennis - individual sports. Through all this, you learn how precious life is."
In the memorial program Ron was quoted as writing:
"A new day - - I want... my ambition is for my life to begin anew, to begin to bring more order to my life. To eliminate those behaviors, people and influences that are destructive to my spirit. To begin to visit the areas that are spiritually refreshing and replenishing to me. I need to isolate myself into the space that I value... me, myself and I. From there, I can help others. Only there. So think, Ronald, as to what is replenishing, refreshing to you, what would you like to put in order. And like the book says, "Give yourself permission." - Ronald J. Simmons June 14, 2007
Contributions can be made in Ronald's memory to The National Kidney Foundation by going to http:/www.firstgiving.com/ronaldsimmons.
Donations can also be made to a college fund for Ron's children, Rebecca, Nicholas and Sabrina. Checks payable to the Schwab 529 College Savings Plan and noted the Ronald Simmons Memorial Fund may be sent to
147 Second Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94118.
Victoria A. Neville of Bayville, LI passed away on February 17, 2009 at age 71. Beloved wife of the late Thomas. Loving mother of Christina Brotemarkle (Ben), Leslie A. Meyer (Bill), Victoria Candiotti (Cliff) and Thomas Jr. (Jessica). Dear sister of Vincent Daniello (Gail) and William Daniello (Carole). Proud grandmother of Jack, Julia, Thomas, and Grace. Also survived by nieces, nephews, many friends and family. Visiting at the Funeral Home of Dodge-Thomas, Glen Cove. Mass at St. Gertrude RC Church. Interment Locust Valley Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: Melville, NY 11747.
Peter V. Miller of Bayville, LI passed away on February 1, 2009 at age 54. Husband of Linda. Loving father of Christopher and Nicole. IBM International Sales Representative for 26 years. Director and Coach of St. Gertrude's Basketball Program since 1996. A memorial mass will be held at St. Gertrude RC Church, Bayville on February 28th at 2 p.m. Memorial Tribute 3 p.m. at the Parish Center. Arrangements made by Dodge-Thomas Funeral Home, Glen Cove. Donations may be made to "Pete Miller Memorial Fund": PO Box 54, Bayville, NY 11709. Donations will be used towards a basketball floor in the gymnasium.