Ronald L. Cole of Greensboro, Georgia passed away on May 14 at the age of 74. He spent his final days looking out on the lake he loved and being doted on by his children, grandchildren, sons-in-law and wife of fifty-two years.
Ron was born on September 22, 1945 in Shelbyville, Indiana, one of thirteen children born to Grace and Earl Leon Cole. As the sixth child and first boy, he anointed himself the family prince and dreamed up devilish ways to torment his sisters. He “collected” their doll heads and disrupted their dates, flashing the porch lights when anyone leaned in for a good-night kiss. It was the beginning of a life-long love of pranks and competition.
Growing up Ron excelled at just about everything, winning a statewide free-throw contest, and awards like Outstanding Boy of the Year and the coveted Paul Cross Award for achievement in basketball, citizenship and academics. He was student body president and one of the first alumni inducted into the Shelbyville High School Hall of Fame.
Ron studied mathematics on an academic scholarship at Franklin College and was elected president of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. But the highlight of his time at Franklin was saying yes to a blind date with Lynda Esposito, a brown-eyed beauty from New Jersey who would say “I do” just eleven months later.
After graduating cum laude from Franklin and a stint teaching high school, Ron answered a want ad for a position at Reader’s Digest in New York. He got the job and rose up the ranks to become president and CEO of its Canadian operation and worldwide publisher of the magazine. He attended Harvard Business School and did business in Japan, South Africa and more than a dozen countries in between. Despite the long trips and hours, his priorities were clear: when his daughters had a concert or basketball game, he was there. He also set aside plenty of time to convince the girls’ friends that he was, in fact, the real Ronald McDonald.
His work brought chances to live in Montreal and Madrid and compete in enough golf tournaments to become a fierce player with five hole-in-one plaques on the wall. It should be noted that his patience on the fairway only went so far, particularly when he teed off with his daughters or sons-in-law. The words “why don’t you pick up the ball and throw it” might have slipped out more than once.
Giving back was important to Ron. He was generous with everyone in his personal and professional life. He volunteered at Ken Venturi’s Guiding Eyes for the Blind and served on the board of the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club, a branch of an organization that helped shape his ambitions as a teen.
After retiring, leaving Chappaqua, NY and settling in Georgia in 1998, he traveled with Lynda, perfected a killer gin martini for his mother-in-law, completed every New York Times crossword puzzle and played even more golf. He collected a closetful of impractical gadgets and spent hours studying their instruction manuals. But mostly, he found ways to dote on his “queen” Lynda and share the prankster code with his five grandchildren. On holidays you might find him in the attic, tied up in Christmas lights for an Elf on the Shelf routine or crafting a tinfoil pole to celebrate Festivus.
At the last full meal with his family, his children and grandchildren shared their favorite jokes and stories from their time together. As the meal ended his final words summed up the evening and a life, “That was special. Thank you.”
Ron is missed by his wife Lynda; daughters Elizabeth and Catherine; grandchildren Sarah, Matthew, Charlie, Elizabeth and Emilia; sons-in-law Christian and Doug; brothers-in-law Richard and Robert; sisters Shirley, Beverly, Denie, Faye, Jackie, Christie, Beth, Sherri and Julie. He is predeceased by parents, Grace and Earl Leon, and siblings Gregg, Todd and Betty.
A memorial will be held at a later date. Memorial contributions may be made in Ron’s name at J. Ken Self Shelby County Boys & Girls Club, P.O. Box 57, Shelbyville, IN 46176 or The Cancer Foundation, PO Box 49309, Athens, GA 30604 or www.cfnega.org. McCommons Funeral Home, 109 W. Broad St., Greensboro, GA, (706) 453-2626, is in charge of arrangements. Visit us at www.mccommonsfuneralhome.com to sign the online guest register.
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