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‘The report of my death was an exaggeration’

Round about 3:30 this morning, I grappled with an especially resistant sudoku; I’ve been nibbling on it for the better part of a week. Given sufficient time, even the most difficult puzzle can be solved. I have to believe that.

There is comfort in numbers, for me at least: they behave in ways that humans don’t.

After fifteen or twenty minutes (and very little progress on the puzzle) I had a notion (far less spiritual than an epiphany; more vague than an idea), so I put the puzzle aside and thought I should write my obituary.

I’ve written obituaries before. During an especially vacuous faculty meeting several years ago, I wrote the death notice, obituary, and a letter-to-the-editor for the passing of Agincourt restauranteur Maud (Mrs B. F.) Adams and made a general observation about that formulaic literary form: the fundamental purpose of an obit is “to remember the best and forget all the rest.” If we are to live each day as though it were our last, our obituary ought to keep pace. I decided to take a stab at mine. Our memory, after all — the way we will be recalled — is already in other hands.

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Death claims long-time teacher

by Howard A. Tabor

Ronald H.L.M. Ramsay died early this morning of an apparent seizure induced by a particularly pesky sudoku. It is likely that he was older than dirt.

Ramsay — an only child — was born at the Little Company of Mary hospital in Evergreen Park, Illinois to Roy Ramsey and a wife who some years later packed a suitcase of lingerie and loose cash for a one-way trip to Cleveland. His grandmother Clara Frances Markiewicz Ramsey (whose maiden name and obvious ethnicity Ron grafted to his own emerging self-image) laid the foundation for a long life he could hardly have imagined.

More clever than bright, Ron attended schools at Bedford Park and nearby Argo-Summit (suburban Chicago) in an age when the estimable role of teacher was filled with what he called “secular nuns,” women who chose career over family. At school, he often answered to the name “Roy” since several of those women had also taught his father twenty-five years previous. Principal Rose Spellman instilled a love of language, while Veronica Piper gave him a profound respect for mathematics and the discipline of numbers. Virginia Lawton opened his eyes to the natural world and James Barnes Baker challenged his communicative skills to convey more information with fewer words. There is more than a little irony that history (taught by the basketball coach so that he’d have something to do) was Ramsay’s weakest subject, yet it became the core of a forty-five-plus year career in higher education.

Growing up (another ironic phrase, since he never did) in the working-class suburbs of Chicago, Ramsay took every opportunity to escape reality and explore the city’s byways, discovering the notion of palimpsest long before he ever heard the word. He came to know Hugh M.G. Garden, Holabird & Roche, John Wellborn Root, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright as well as he knew his own friends and neighbors. So it should come as no surprise that Architecture would shape the core of Ramsay’s being.

Mistaking Architecture as a career rather than a passion, Ron chose the University of Oklahoma for his ongoing education and after that Columbia University in New York City. Mentors there — Dean Bryant Vollendorf, Fred Shellabarger, Bill Burgett at O.U.; James Marston Fitch at Columbia — were helpful in furthering his passion for both the art and craft of Architecture.

Meanwhile, the evolution of his spiritual life kept pace with his intellectual interests. Ramsay’s grandfather Roy, and his father, another Roy, were atheist and agnostic, respectively. Ron (who was meant to be the third Roy in that lineage) accepted the torch of eclectic skepticism.

Working from the age of ten at Roy Ramsey’s Phillips 66 service station — pumping gas, lubricating and changing oil, patching tires — introduced him to the World of Work. Summers there and, later, at Midwest Tea Packing punctuated seven undergraduate years at Norman, Oklahoma, and a year of graduate work at Columbia preceded his appointment to the Architecture faculty of a smaller Midwestern institution. He has remained there since August, 1971, exploring the American “Outback” and yammering to any who would listen about the also-rans of architectural history — Lawrence Buck, Burnham Hoyt, Louis Singleton Curtiss, Jože Plečnik, William Halsey Wood — and the architecture of churches, despite his aversion to organized religion.

After twenty-eight years with his partner Peter Vandervort, they married on the first of August, 2013, motivated perhaps by his open-heart surgery only two months before. Ramsay and Vandervort were litigants in a suit which eventually brought marriage equity to the Red State where he has lived for more than forty years, hoarding art and books and, by and large, not giving a wet slap about much else. He leaves, then, a husband, a dog, a cat, a massive personal library (most of which remains unread), an accumulation of passable art, and a gaggle of fellow eccentrics who count him a friend. Could any of us hope for more?

R.I.P.


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