Lost a longtime friend this week when 71-year-old Ron Dees died from a heart attack suffered at his home in Fayetteville, NC.
Our friendship goes back to 1983 when I was serving as an administrative assistant (a more descriptive title for what is now called “chief of staff”) to a new Congressman, and we met when he came into the office as a lobbyist to introduce himself. Amy and I were fortunate to later become part of a circle of friends that included Ron, his wife Anne and Steve and Marty Driesler.
Marty served as AA for Congressman Hal Rogers of Kentucky and Anne worked communications for an association. We had dinners together, Super Bowl gatherings when the Washington Redskins were winning them and worked together.
We shared surprise 40th birthdays with each other. Ron was the youngest of the three guys and the antics of the parties were legendary. Mine involved a bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold and a swim in their backyard pool on a dark, freezing, December night. Ron had to deal with a birthday we all kept seeming to forget.
Ron was a great storyteller and could leave us laughing or crying over a story from his life or his interactions with the powers-that-be on Capitol Hill. He served in the Army during the Vietnam years before coming to Washington.
He was a good cook, and he and Anne moved to North Carolina and opened a restaurant that won a lot of critical praise, and we would drive down there with Steve and Marty to sample the excellent cuisine. They returned to the Washington area when the beach area entered an economic downturn.
We drank and partied a lot at the Capitol Hill Club where the table could include other lobbyists, members of Congress, including then-Republican Leader Bob Michel, Senator John McCain or Interior Secretary Manual Lujan.
Our friendship survived more than one of my stupid stunts as an alcoholic and I entered Alcoholics Anonymous the day after I lost a job that Anne helped me get. It wasn’t the first time I had disappointed them, yet, somehow, they remained friends that I did not deserve.
With their help, I rebounded and worked steadily in DC for another decade.
They were married for 51 years, a union that the rest of us — most of us had been married before our current matchups. Their grown daughter, Beth, survived an organ transplant that, for a while, seemed to be doing OK but later died, leaving a husband and son.
When we left Washington and moved to Floyd County in 2004, Ron and Anne came to the area to visit his brother in Galax and discovered the Hillsville Flea Market and Gun Show. As I recall, they came back for anther year and started looking for a place to live, finally buying a fixer-upper near Max Meadows and left DC for good.
Ron developed a blog, Wythe Notes, that chronicled life in and around Wythe County, and we would meet up with them for lunch or dinner in Wytheville or other areas. He promoted good restaurants in the area. On one visit, he talked our local Pagan motorcycle club member to pose for a picture, another example of his ability to persuade.
Beth’s son, Conner, would spend time with them on trips from the Washington area, and they doted on their grandson.
When I was in intensive care from the motorcycle accident in 2012, they were at the hospital to help Amy. We took them to dinner at Mickey G’s, after I finally was back on my feet, which was nowhere near what we owed them for being there for us during that difficult times.
A few years ago, they moved to Ron’s hometown of Fayetteville, NC. We kept hoping to get down to see them, but illness and other problems got in the way. Plans to drive down this year got stopped by the pandemic.
Too often, we don’t keep up with friends and are not there when they need help. I disappointed Ron and Anne more than once and, yet, they remained friends.
I should have tried harder. I had let them down and hurt them too many times over the years. His health was failing. He and Anne were there when I was near death in 2012. Why didn’t I make it down to North Carolina this year? An unforgivable act on my part.
Farewell, my friend. Please find a peaceful rest in the afterlife. You remained a friend I did not deserve. My thanks to you and Anne and my sincere apologies for not being a better friend.