By Sue Tiffin
When Ron Reid died suddenly and unexpectedly on Dec. 10, the Minden resident left a legacy of giving, helping others and making connections solidified in the memory of anyone and everyone he had ever greeted with his wide, welcoming smile, open arms and endless enthusiasm.
“When you asked Ron how he was, he’d always say, “I’m awesome,” or “I’m unbelievable,” in this big bounding voice,” said his partner, Joan Pipher. “He made everybody feel welcome and part of everything that was happening.”
Born in Picton, Ontario, Ron later studied biology at Trent University from 1966 to 1970, meeting friends playing rugger (rugby) and meeting Toos, who later became his wife of 40 years. In 1976, he began a contract working as a freshwater lakes biologist at the Dorset Research Centre that led he and Toos to move to Haliburton County, where they raised their three children, becoming immersed in the community.
“When I think of his accomplishments they are huge, spanning so many organizations, charities and individuals,” his longtime friend Debbie Wales told the Times. “And they all involve giving. Ron was the most generous, kind individual. His middle name should have been ‘Help Others,’ because that is what he did, from neighbours, to friends and to complete strangers. If there was a need, Ron was there to help, dropping everything he was doing at a moment’s notice to make someone’s life better or easier. There are so many stories …”
Those stories are told now by the incredible collective of family, friends, neighbours, fellow volunteers, schoolmates, work colleagues and sports team members whose relationships with Ron had been diligently nurtured despite how long it might have been since he had last seen them.
“He decided last March … he said, because we can’t see people so much because of COVID, he always kept in touch with people, but he was getting in touch with people he hadn’t seen in years and years,” said Pipher. “He said, ‘I’m going to phone two people a week’, and he did that, got in touch with people he used to work with or went to school with or that kind of thing. He’s got lots of friends that he’s had for 40 or 50 years.”
Paul Heffer had been friends with Ron for decades. For the month prior to Ron’s death, the two had been out working in the sugar bush several days a week. He said Ron was a “people person.”
“He loved people, and he really lived life,” said Heffer. “I don’t know too many other people who I could say, just enjoyed life like he did, in so many different ways. I think it was partly due to his love of people. He was very outgoing. He’d talk to anybody and befriend just about anybody. He had so many people from so many different times in his life that he would – we’d be going somewhere and he’d say, ‘oh, I haven’t seen so-and-so for awhile, let’s drop in and see how he’s doing’. He’d drop in unannounced on just about anybody. That type of person. It was just fun. And sometimes it was just to say, hi, and to talk and get caught up on what they were doing.”
Oftentimes, Heffer said, it was to help, with Ron frequently noting someone in need and mentioning he was going to stop by and see what he could do to assist, whether it be to cut firewood for someone, help around the yard, or generously share his garlic or maple syrup.
“One of Ron’s most often told stories involved his house fire that destroyed his home in the late seventies,” said Pipher. “He, his wife, Toos, and his children were all out of the house and so were safe, but they lost everything. They had only been in the community for a few years but by the next day, they were offered several places to live and when they went to one of them, the fridge was full, there were boxes of food on the table and there were diapers and boxes of clothing for everybody. All these years later, Ron was still amazed at and grateful for his community. He said that it was that that made him realize the importance of kindness and giving back to those around him wherever he was.”
“Over the past couple of weeks when I talk to people who knew Ron, there is always a story and often it revolves around a time when Ron heard that they were in need and offered to help immediately,” said Wales. “The stories range from Ron offering a family his house to live in, in Carnarvon when their house was burnt out recently, to someone needing help clearing away a tree that had fallen across their driveway. He would always spring into action.”
He did so for Wales and her husband Grahame last spring, when Grahame required surgery on his dominant hand.
“We had worked all winter making and glazing pots, getting ready to fire three huge kiln loads in the spring,” said Wales. “The kiln is a very large outdoor gas kiln, and the shelves are so heavy that I can not lift them off the ground, let alone over my head to stack the shelves for the pots. Ron and Joan immediately offered to help. They carried the pots out to the kiln shed, Ron stacked the shelves for loading – several hours work. Then they returned in a few days to unload the pots, and take the shelving down, only to repeat that process two more times until all the pots were fired and on the shelves in the studio. That required at least six days work over a few weeks. Incredible!”
Pipher said the response to his passing has been indescribable, a month after his death she is still receiving two to three phone calls a day from people reaching out, and “everyone has a good story about Ron.”
“To just be so admired by so many people – most people can’t say that, but he never made enemies, that I know of,” she said. “He always just liked everybody and people liked him.”
Ron was, she said, “one of those people who was willing to help anybody who needed help at any time.”
His helpful nature led him to work with Help A Village Effort (H.A.V.E.) for nearly 40 years, becoming chairperson in 1998. He initiated a CIDA grant that provided over $500,000 in funds over a three-year period to build wells for impoverished villages in rural India, raised funds every year, including through events held in Haliburton County, visited many of the villages in India – boarding a plane to Calcutta in his 60s for the first time to a destination outside of North America – to connect with international efforts and enthusiastically drew people in to the cause.
“In my humble opinion, my dear friend, Ron, is to be well respected, admired, and remembered as a long-standing, capable chairman of Help A Village Effort,” said Gerard Feltham, founder of H.A.V.E., on the organization’s website. “Ron enabled H.A.V.E. Canada to become a well-established international NGO which is providing safe drinking water to many very needy villages, particularly in India.”
“He was a natural leader as far as inspiring the people around him and he was also, I think his outgoing spirit was great as far as needing to raise funds and motivate people,” said Heffer, who joined Ron in working with H.A.V.E. “I think Ron took a lot of pleasure and pride in being able to do that and share that with people, too.”
Ron’s generous organizing nature served local families as well.
“He worked for many years with the Christmas basket program in Minden, organizing food and toy donations and distribution, helping numerous families in the community to have a good Christmas,” said Wales. “And everyone wanted to volunteer because Ron was just so charismatic and joyful. He always had a smile on his face and a kind word for whomever he met.”
Ron’s children – Simon, Jody and Matt – remembered him as being a tireless supporter, driving to sports events to encourage and cheer them on, and sharing his enthusiasm for life with them.
“Growing up on the farm taught us so much and Dad seemed to know just about everything,” said Simon at Ron’s service. “From him I watched and I learned how to plant gardens, birth cows, build a house, slaughter rabbits, identify crayfish, use a chainsaw, though, perhaps, not safely, tap a maple tree, play hockey, read books, use duct tape to stop the bleeding, be a peacemaker, cut it up on the dance floor, talk to strangers, be a good husband, and smile through it all.”
The loss of Toos in 2013 to Acute Myeloid Leukemia was a devastating loss to the family, and Simon said there were some dark times in which Ron “struggled to try to understand the path he was on.”
Years later, after deciding to become a snowbird like his sisters during the winter, Ron was introduced to his sister’s friend, Joan, and the pair formed a close relationship.
“Once Ron and I created a bond, we knew that at our age we needed to make every moment count,” Pipher told the Times. Together they went golfing, travelled to see friends and family, even a cruise – Ron’s first.
“We loved our winters in Florida because we could golf, do aqua fit, play bridge, walk the paths, swim in the pool, play shuffleboard, and visit with Florida friends,” said Pipher. “As you can see, Ron was not a sit-and-do nothing kind of guy.”
He left every February to get back to the farm, tap the maple trees and start his maple syrup production.
“His maple bush was one of his great passions and even as late as this year he was planning how to increase his maple output,” said Pipher. “His eyes shone whenever maple syrup was mentioned.”
“His love for making maple syrup was a glue that brought many friends, family and community together,” said Jody during his service. “Annually we would pack his house with too many people to ‘help’ make maple syrup and snowshoe through the trails. He loved his time in the bush and forged many strong friendships with those and others who would like to keep active in the outdoors with him.”
His grandkids considered him a hero, she said, providing bottomless maple syrup that they called ‘Boppa’ syrup, and also offering summer camp excursions, endless four-wheeling trips, and bonfire nights.
“I think he was someone that truly lived life,” said Heffer. “He loved life, but he was also one of those people that seemed to be able to live it to the fullest. The other thing is, he was, you don’t hear this much but he was a spiritual man. He was involved in his church community. He was also thankful for life, I guess you could say … He would sit down at the table, if we were having a meal together, he would always say a traditional grace and he would always express thanks for what was going on in his life. It was sort of the way he connected with people.”
It’s hard to imagine that Ron had time for other pursuits in his life, but he did – enjoying curling, softball, running, hockey, canoe trips, dancing and serving in his church. A memorial wall in his honour is filled with the connections he made during these outings, adventures, volunteer experiences and from his day-to-day activity.
“He undoubtedly made the world a better place in so many ways, but perhaps most by just being open to connection,” said Simon, at Ron’s service. “So next time you think, I should reach out – pull a Ron Reid. Just pick up the phone, jump in the car, and just show up. I’m sure you’ll make someone’s day awesome.”