We, as a community, are both shocked and saddened over the passing of our friend and colleague, Ron McBee. Over the years, Ron touched so many lives in such a positive way and rejected accolades for his community and public service.
Little could I have imagined, when I first met Ron through our early work to reopen Van Ness Elementary School and as I got to know him during the 2011 re-districting effort, that we would become great friends. I have only known Ron for four years, and what an impact he made in my life. I am grateful for every day I knew him, although the days were far too few.
Ron took me under his wing as I began my journey into community service. He introduced me to so many people – citizens, community leaders, elected and appointed officials, school principals, decision-makers, and others. He helped guide me through the agencies, processes, and politics of it all. He gave me the gift of helping to make a difference by working together for the greater good.
Ron and I spoke practically every day. We discussed community issues facing both the Southwest and the Capitol Riverfront areas. The topics ranged from helping our low-income residents and seniors with housing, food, and health care needs to quality education for all DC children. We discussed crime and safety as well as recreational facilities and dog parks.
I knew, when my phone rang and Ron was on the other line, I was going to end up at a meeting, and there were plenty.
He encouraged me to learn as much as I could about an issue, to do so by asking intelligent questions of a broad spectrum of stakeholders, and to listen with an open mind and heart. He encouraged me to join the Near SE/SW Community Benefits Coordinating Council. We attended education roundtables with the Mayor and supported Amidon-Bowen, Jefferson, and (the soon-to-reopen) Van Ness Elementary.
Then there are what I call our great adventures. Walking tours around Greenleaf and Syphax talking to residents, painting Lansburgh Park, taking the King Greenleaf kids to Nationals Park for a baseball clinic, grilling food during job fairs for residents, cleaning a local playground, and meeting with Council members at the Wilson building. The list is quite extensive and the adventures were time consuming, but it was all time well spent.
During every outing or meeting, his phone would ring non-stop. If you knew Ron, you knew that dinosaur of a phone he carried around – the blue flip phone that looks like it had survived a tsunami. His voicemail was always full; I gave up leaving messages knowing he would call right back, and he did.
I will miss meeting Ron at his “office,” the Starbucks at Safeway. I will miss our 30-minute, 3 block walk along 4th Street from M to I St. Speed was not important; the people stopping him on the street or calling his old phone were his priority.
I once told Ron that if he were in the Vatican standing near the Pope, people would look and ask: who is the guy in the funny hat standing next to Ron?
In addition to being an ANC Commissioner and CBCC board member, Ron was simply a selfless person who looked out for everyone and always put himself last.
Not too long ago, my friend Marty and I went to visit Ron in the hospital. As we walked into his room, he was surrounded by papers and his phone was ringing. We weren’t surprised. We jokingly told him we were tired of carrying his load while he was hospitalized. He was out of the hospital that afternoon. Coincidence? Probably. However, knowing Ron, one can never be sure.
The unthinkable news of his passing came as we were getting ready for an education meeting at Amidon. I had expected him to walk in late, like he tended to do, running from one thing to another. I am not afraid to admit that I had a hard time keeping my composure due to my sadness and disbelief.
I am honored to call Ron McBee my good friend and my mentor, and, as some said tongue-in-cheek, to have been part of his “posse.” I am glad that I had the chance to truly thank him for all that he had done for me. I told him that he was great leader and mentor and that I was grateful. He laughed at me and called me an idiot for even thinking that.
Rest in peace my friend. You’ve done a great deal of good on this Earth. I’m sure you are up there setting up shop and ensuring that all the angels have secure jobs, safe housing, and a quality education…
By: Bruce DarConte
Near SE/SW Community Benefits Coordinating Council