April 28, 1944 - July 29, 2013
Ask friends or family for a story about Ron DeLacy - reporter, raconteur, randy musician and oh-so rowdy force of nature - and the laughs ensue. The longtime Modesto Bee journalist and musician and so much more died of bladder cancer July 29 at his home in Columbia.
Irreverent and often profane, DeLacy had an innate ability to connect with people whether it be in person, on the page or on the stage. He could be exasperating - just ask anyone who ever had to kid him or herself about being his "boss." But the way he lived his life was that it really is about having fun. It's what drew us all in and why we loved him so.
Maybe it's best to let Ron introduce himself. Here he is in June 2011, in the Adventures in Aging column he wrote for the foothills magazine Friends and Neighbors:
"I'm 67, a widower, father and grandfather and a survivor of shingles, bad knees, periodontal disaster, hypertension and cancer, not to mention exposure to other dangers of my age and era from the Vietnam War to LSD to homophobia, the latter only because I choose to cruise these hills in the pink Miata that I gave my wife and later inherited.
"Maybe it's time to slow down.
"Wait, no, maybe it isn't, because here comes another new adventure, or rather a reprise of an old one. And this promises to be a long-term adventure - as long as whatever term I have left, that is.
"I am going to be a father.
"I don't mean I'm going into the priesthood, as if it would have me. We are talking here about father as in lower-case father, which I already have been for more than 30 years. I am going to be a father again."
Ron was the fifth of Mary Louise and Charles Clifford DeLacy's brood that eventually numbered seven. He grew up raising hell with his siblings in Vallejo and was a cheerleader in high school, which his brother John says started as a lark but turned out fine. He is the first sibling to die and is survived by Clifford DeLacy of American Canyon, Charlene Poletti of Los Angeles, Tom DeLacy of Reno, John DeLacy of Roseville, Sharon Steward of Roseville and Debra Williams of Los Gatos.
Ron started his newspaper career in 1962 as a sportswriter at the Vallejo Times-Herald. A four-year stint in the Army, 1966 -70, was spent writing and editing at the military news organization Stars and Stripes in Germany. DeLacy said what got him the safe gig in such dangerous times was that he could type so fast.
He spent the rest of his working life writing and editing, including eight years at the Honolulu Advertiser through most of the '70s and 28 years at The Modesto Bee, ending in 2007.
He was one funny guy and yet Ron the reporter always hit just the right note, one that matched the tone of the story. And he was that rare writer who also excels as an editor, designing pages and fashioning stories into readable tales, luring in readers with headlines they couldn't walk away from.
"He made it look easy," said Chris Bateman, former longtime reporter and columnist at the Union Democrat in Sonora. "And for him I think it was easy."
Wherever he worked, Ron left a lasting impression.
Glenn Scott, a former columnist and colleague from The Modesto Bee, worked in a Stars and Stripes newsroom in Japan. Via email, Scott recalls visiting Germany once for a meeting. "I asked some of the longtimer sports editors if they remembered DeLacy. 'Remember Ron?' they yelled. 'We'll never forget Ron!' This was in 1998, maybe 20 years after he'd left, but they spoke like he'd been there six months earlier. And then they told me stories for another 15 minutes about him."
DeLacy stories are legion. Longtime readers of The Modesto Bee will remember his story about a court case and one of the attorney's voluminous farts. DeLacy not only scooped the competition with his story, Odor in the Court, but wrote a song about it that he played in Doodoo Wah, his two-man band with Dave Cavanagh that tackled the big issues of the day in a funny way. The duo had a large following of people who loved to laugh about slow roadwork ("Caltrans"), getting cheated in the 2000 election ("Florida") and crappy workmanship ("B.A.R.F. Construction" - "We throw it up").
Ron's joie de vivre was contagious. You just had to be ready for whatever he was cooking up. Bateman recalls the phone call he got one day from DeLacy from The Sportsman, a bar next to the newspaper. He had a great idea, Ron did: an "annual Christmas mistletoe shoot," because who doesn't celebrate the holidays by killing parasitic plants in trees?
He got lucky in love after his first marriage ended in divorce. He fell in love with Suzanne Allen while living and working in Hawaii. They lived a rollicking life from their marriage in spring 1978, with their baby girl in attendance, to Suzanne's death from esophageal cancer in January 2008. They had two children, Macejko and Max.
When DeLacy talked about his kids, his face lit up. Macejko's son, Cole, was his grandpa's delight.
After Suzanne died, his friendship with Lisa Folsom turned to love and, shock of all shocks, a baby. Lily, who was born in August 2011, got four loving siblings, Lisa's boys, Cyrus and Ott Smithson, and the two grown DeLacys.
Just as Ron had been there for Suzanne as she died, Lisa was there for Ron. She filled his life with love and humor and honored him as she helped him leave this life.
She was aided by the close-knit band of DeLacy friends. "Just call him the leader of the band in Tuolumne County," suggested Prairie Flower, aka Chris Stevenson, at an impromptu wake the day Ron died. She and partner and fellow musician Cactus Bob (Bob Cole) shared countless stages with Doodoo Wah, notably the annual wintertime "Yeow!" shows, rocking celebrations of bluegrass meets comedy, guitars, banjos and fiddles wailing.
Ron got into songwriting after "not" attending John Prine's workshop at Strawberry Music Festival in the mid-1980s, he told the singer when they met later. He and Cavanagh and musical friends played frequently at Strawberry over the years. "Doodoo heads" followed the group from foothill venues to Modesto and other spots throughout the nation, eager to laugh over the lyrics of songs like "Since My Baby Turned Gay" and "Men's Crisis Center." That nonexistent gathering place took on a life of its own, complete with apparel advising, "The little woman comes lookin', tell her I ain't here."
Now, neither is DeLacy. He'd hate maudlin sentiment or talk of "passing away." He'd say he died but, as final as that sounds, strains of his raucous laughter and memories of the crazy things he did will reverberate throughout the lives of those who loved him for a very, very long time.
A celebration of Ron's life will be held Sept. 15, 1 p.m., Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora. Appetizer potluck.
Published in the Modesto Bee on Aug. 4, 2013