Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Cowboy Rides Away

by David Cranmer

Photo taken by Ron Scheer, March 2011.

On April 11, 2015, Ron Scheer passed away after a long battle with cancer. Lynda—who Ron referred to as his life mate—said, "A blessing to know that he has flown high--like the hawk Anne recently watched in the desert, wheeling and turning on the wind--away from pain and struggle." I know I can speak for our online community in saying that we send our deepest condolences to his wife Lynda and children Anne and Jeremy.

Ron and I never met face to face. Our friendship was one born in the blogosphere. A comment left on his post here and a response left on mine elsewhere. That quid pro quo that often goes nowhere but sometimes crosses the transom into something quite special. Our bond began over five years ago when I immediately recognized characteristics in Ron that I respected, and my admiration for him only grew as the years went along.

What first stands out to any visitor to Buddies in the Saddle (BITS) is this blogger is a very gifted writer. I know we call them posts, articles, etc., but in Ron's hands these often became mini-masterpieces—layered essays deepening one's knowledge of a particular subject and leaving the reader eager to learn more about these passionate interests. And Ron wasn't just enthusiastic about Westerns, he also had an overflowing fountain of knowledge in art, photography, jazz, noir, foreign films, poetry, and literature from all corners, Old West lingo, current events, social justice, science fiction, and the list goes on. You know a top wordsmith when they can instill a thirst in you for a topic you hadn't previously thought you cared about—he had that natural, enviable ability.

Ron and I collaborated on several projects, starting when I asked if he'd be interested in writing a few words for a hardboiled anthology I was editing, and he penned the masterful introduction with the same zeal and perception he brought to his other work. But his first love in writing, clearly, was for the American Old West, so when Ron approached me about publishing his own essays dedicated to the early frontier authors and their novels, I was thrilled to do so. How the West Was Written was published in two volumes, with Spur Award-winning author Richard S. Wheeler saying, "I believe this will be the standard work on early western fiction." Without a doubt, it's Ron's knowledgeable, comprehensive voice we want to hear recalling those early days on the range. These are not dry academic missives, but, instead, a storyteller sitting around a campfire, thumbing his Stetson high up on his forehead, and connecting us to a fascinating history.

Continuing on this writing path leads us to the depth of a remarkable human being. In his blogging when he confronts death's first unwelcomed appearance, not only does Ron's courageous grit shine through but so does his ability to compose poetic prose while reflecting on his own mortality. In just one of many profound BITS entries, this from April 13, 2014, after he has lamented the state of endless wars, he takes solace in a treasured pastime, reading, "where killing and death are transformed into words on the page and real blood is not shed." He then adds:

In literature, the dead do not fall into an Eternal Silence, as do those who have actually lived and breathed. Gravestones do not mark the resting place of a lifetime of memories, locked away forever. Lives lived in literature remain at least partly open to us, unforgotten. I think of Joyce as getting at something like this in "The Dead." Spending a holiday evening with a gathering of people, all of them now dead and gone, we are touched by them, their loneliness and sorrows, their heart-breaking memories, their isolation, weaknesses, and failures, their bravery. Yet somehow the words on the page keep them from being forever snuffed out. At least some part of them is still remembered.

A man who writes with such vision is drawing from a deep reserve. Perhaps, an indicator—a signpost on the trail, if you will—to the origin of this wellspring can be traced, in part, to a lifetime of dedication and service to others.

Lynda and Ron in Palm Springs.

Ron's M.A. and Ph.D. were from UCLA (and Lynda notes it's ironic he ended up at its arch rival USC to teach writing from 2000 until he retired around 2012). His first job was at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania where he taught composition and was excited about working a Head Start program for disadvantaged first-year students. As Lynda told me, there is a noticeable pattern of committed service running through Ron's career-from spending a college summer volunteering at the Behrhorst Clinic in Guatemala to coaching writing students in Watts, an area that had been, at the time, devastated by the 1965 "riots." It was also at Mansfield (1969-1983) where he discovered a life-long passion for film and developed an insight that we would eventually enjoy here at BITS. In 1983, he went on to post-graduate work at Carnegie Mellon, then left teaching to work at the advertising agency Siegel & Gale in NYC where he directed the language simplification projects for the agency's New York, London, and Los Angeles offices. Ten years later, he returned to teaching at USC until he retired.

This is a soul who left us far too soon, and we feel cheated and robbed by his absence. However, I'm reminded of the Greek poet Pindar who advised us not to aspire to immortal life "but exhaust the limits of the possible." I take stock knowing Ron's life was lived to the fullest. And in what became his twilight, he turned to blogging at BITS and writing and found a new outlet for his enthusiasm and creativity. Once again, Lynda opens a window for us:

"His world expanded as he dug into frontier fiction and met you all. After he retired from teaching, your community became a huge part of his life, a part that inspired him and engaged his most incredible mind. I believe that, by the time he got too sick to write, he felt fulfilled and validated."

Ron, you were a wonderful, compassionate friend to us. A rapport started in cyberspace, true, but one that manifested itself into genuine, affectionate friendships. We will always picture you sporting that cowboy hat under which beamed that wide, inviting smile saying hello.

In many of the Western stories we admire, the cowboy rides away as the sun sets over the mountains with the child running after and left wondering why the hero has gone so soon. We, too, feel that way, but we're grateful that you left so much of your heart with us. We will stoke the fire you set, savor the words you left, and take comfort in your undying spirit.

You once handed me a beautiful sentiment that I will never forget. Now, I'm returning these cherished words to you, where they belong, dear friend:

"When they ask me if I knew any truly honorable men, I will tell them about you."

Rest in peace, buddy.

31 comments:

  1. A beautiful tribute, David. I agree with Dick Wheeler: HOW THE WEST WAS WRITTEN will live on for a long, long time.

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  2. A fitting tribute to a great human being, David.

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  3. David, this is, indeed, a beautiful and touching tribute to a remarkable human being. Thank you for echoing my own thoughts about Ron in so many ways. Just a thought, David: I was wondering if Ron's journal and his reviews of early western fiction could be compiled into separate volumes and preserved for posterity.

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  4. Prashant, Ron's two volumes—How the West Was Written— contain a majority of his reviews featured here at BITS. He also has a glossary (mostly taken from these pages) on Western lingo being released in a few months. And, finally, he wrote a novella called Miles to Lost Dog Creek that I hope to have published by the end of the year.

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  5. A great tribute to a fine writer and teacher, David.

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  6. Thank you for this wonderful tribute.

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  7. Mr. Cranmer's beautiful, elegiac piece honors Ron Scheer's genius and humanity, and is a fitting conclusion to Buddies in the Saddle. I am grateful to Lynda Scheer for opening Ron's world to us, and making this last tribute possible. She gave her husband and us the gift of love.

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  8. I'll miss you Ron. You were a thoughtful and kind man.

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  9. For the past several years I got into the habit of visiting Ron's blog just about on a daily basis. I really miss that pleasant duty and the enjoyment I received from Ron's research on early western fiction. Goodbye and thanks Ron.

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  10. Much of this I did not know. And thanks for sharing it with us, David. A wonderful tribute to a special man from a special man.

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  11. Thank you, David, for a wonderful tribute. Ron will be missed by many who only knew him from blogs and facebook.

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  12. Thank you David and thank you Ron. A page is being turned but Ron's legacy will endure.

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  13. Wonderfully written. I never had any contact with Mr. Scheer, but from reading what you wrote about him, he sounds like the kind of man that touched people a certain way, simply by being there.

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  14. Further thanks, David, and also for publishing the books.

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  15. I always enjoyed his writing. I will miss it and him. Thank you for this tribute, David.

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  16. I always enjoyed his writing. I will miss it and him. Thank you for this tribute, David.

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  17. Thank you, David for giving us a fuller picture of a man whose essays I so admired. My best to you, Lynda and to Ron's children.

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  18. Lovely piece, David. Will Miss his work . And the man.

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  19. Lovely piece, David. Will Miss his work . And the man.

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  20. Hate to hear this news but hope he made peace with his son as he'd indicated he wished to do.

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  21. Thank you for this beautiful tribute. I enjoyed visiting this blog and am so sorry to hear the sad news. Deepest sympathy to all of Ron's family and friends.

    Sincerely,
    Laura

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  22. And I just found him today, so am glad his blog has been allowed to stay up; will it continue? so many times after something like this, they're taken down. I'm so sorry to hear this, and to Lynda, he seems like he was a very special man; glad to have found him, even if a little late; apparently he lives on!

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  23. I just found this blog today when link took me to an old post and I instantly signed up for email alerts. And just before I hit the link to take me to the current front page - I noticed how few posts there had been this year and I a didn't hit the link at first, not wanting to find if it meant what it usually means. So I spent some time on the older pages and got to know him better and better as a writer - and liking him more and more as a person. And I then hit the link and discovered, as I had feared, that he had taken his last ride earlier this year. And now, I need to go back and read more.

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