Ronald R. "Rich" Roat, Jr.
Hockessin - Ronald R. (Rich) Roat Jr. of Hockessin, Delaware, passed away suddenly on the morning of Nov. 29, 2017. He was 52. A devoted husband, father, son, brother, and friend, Rich was a co-founder of House Industries, the design studio and font company that is a standard-bearer of American design and drew the admiration and business of companies such as The New Yorker, Lego and Disney. He was also a volunteer firefighter, avid cyclist and lifelong swimmer. He actively supported the Challenge Program in Wilmington that offers job training to at-risk youth and the Cab Calloway School Fund. He was able to convincingly work topics like super ellipses, artist Big Daddy Roth, and local cheese making into the same conversation and will be remembered for his inspiring passion, extraordinary generosity, stubborn loyalty and strong dislike of Oxford commas.
His greatest joy was his children, Sebastian and Anna. He delighted in their accomplishments in music and dance, but cherished the everyday moments he shared with them—seeing them off to school, eating family dinner together at the kitchen table, grabbing cheesesteaks after a guitar lesson or taking a meandering walk through the nearby nature center. He relished tinkering on his bicycles to the sound of his daughter jumping on her trampoline and his son's band rehearsing inside. He told his family he loved them every single day, but more importantly, he showed it in everything he did. When his wife of 21 years, Sharon Huss Roat, considered quitting her public relations work and focusing on writing young adult fiction, he encouraged her to try. They had met in 1983 as college freshmen in a communication class, where she noticed he was always falling asleep in the back row because of early morning swim practice. They were friends for 10 years before they began dating, marrying on Nov. 2, 1996. As Sharon was struggling to find her voice and story, Rich gave her the gift of a manuscript critique to help. Nobody was prouder than him when she published her first novel, and her second.
Rich grew up in Tennessee, Texas and Delaware, where he lived from age 11 in Hockessin, Newark and Wilmington. Rich learned to swim and compete at the Wilmington Aquatic Club and swam for both A.I. du Pont High School ('80-'83) and the University of Delaware ('84-'87), where he was captain of the team his senior year. He was renowned for doing the hardest events: the 1000-yard free, 500-yard free, 200 fly, and 400 IM. Even so, Rich would joke that his coach would tell swimmers they could develop good technique by watching Rich and doing the opposite of what he did. Rich had also coached both the boys and girls state champion swimming teams at A.I., and served as an assistant coach at A.I. and UD.
As an adult, Rich swam with the Wilmington masters group at the YMCA. He was often the first one there, and wrote creative workouts for them to do together. The tight group built friendships that went outside the pool, and they were known for spending as much time poking fun at each other as they did swimming. Rich's exceptional talent as a swimmer was most evident in the open water, where his powerful-yet-lopsided stroke could be spotted from afar. He completed the 4.4-mile Great Chesapeake Bay Swim 12 times and participated in numerous open water swims in New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida.
In recent years, a longtime hobby of cycling became his grand passion. His riding was an individual and deeply personal experience—he loved being in nature and feeling the earth through his tires and legs—but for him the experience only earned its full value when he shared it with others. The winding, hilly back roads of Chester County were his favorites, and he carried on deep conversations with fellow riders. In the summer of 2012, he was elated to take his then-13-year-old son on the first of several European cycling adventures they would share together through the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland. He was well known and respected by world-class bike racers and teams, including Richard Sachs Cyclocross, who turned to him for design and creative inspiration, leading to lifelong riding and creative collaboration.
He also rode motorcycles, reveling in his freedom at a faster speed. One could sense the joy he felt any time he recounted tales of his motorcycle adventures, whether it was touring Europe on a BMW or collecting groceries in the orange milk crate he strapped to the back of his Suzuki dirt bike.
House Industries was founded in 1993, a few years after Rich and his partner Andy Cruz met when Rich was running a desktop service bureau and Andy was at a Wilmington ad agency. An ardent champion of design and typography who melded vintage graphic design cues with a modern sensibility and creative process, Rich had an uncanny ability to recognize talented designers. He insisted that going to work and being happy were not mutually exclusive ideas, and he created a nurturing environment that allowed House artists and collaborators to thrive. Whether it was building a one-of-a-kind custom-made House Industries bicycle or developing fonts that help the world communicate, if it wasn't a labor of love, you wouldn't see it in the company's collection. Rich recently co-authored, with Andy Cruz and Ken Barber, a book chronicling 25 years of the company's work, "The Process is the Inspiration." The book also served as the basis for a House Industries retrospective entitled A Type of Learning, which debuted at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in 2017. But he also always credited the support of House Industries' clients, patrons, and fans for the company's success, and he was genuinely humbled when someone took an interest in their work.
Rich brought that same focus on quality and integrity to his work with the Challenge Program. In 2000, Rich participated in a timber-framing class taught there. He appreciated the aesthetic value of the shed the class built so much, he bought it to be erected at his home. He also became deeply committed to the program's social mission, helping enhance the program's brand and visibility with a new logo and website. His work is on their slide show presentations, invitations, donor solicitations, T-shirts, mugs, and virtually every way the program is seen in public. Rich also introduced the program to others, including photographer Carlos Alejandro, whose work helps people understand the impact the program is having in providing construction skills and opportunities to at-risk youth. Organizers say Rich helped transform the Challenge Program from a sleepy vocational-education non-profit into something cool that people wanted to be a part of.
As vice chair of the Cab Calloway School Fund, a non-profit organization that provides programs and scholarships to students at Cab Calloway School of the Arts, Rich helped set the visual brand of the school and was committed to community outreach. He helped the fund give the school a vibrant strings and piano program, develop a recording studio, and launch CabSummer. The camp provides access and exposure to arts education to those who may not have the funds to explore it. Recently, Rich spearheaded the effort to start an endowment for the school.
Rich's family is perhaps most proud of his service as a volunteer firefighter in the community where he lived and worked for most of his life. He joined the Hockessin Fire Company in October of 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, training alongside younger men and never complaining. He became one of their most active and valued volunteers. In addition to fighting fires, driving the trucks and working as an EMT, he served on several committees, as public information officer and as financial secretary in 2006.
Rich is survived by his wife, Sharon; son, Sebastian; daughter, Anna; mother, Rosette Malone and her husband Michael; father, Ronald R. Roat and his wife Eleanor; and sister, Suzanne Roat. After a private family burial, a celebration of his life will be scheduled in January. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Hockessin Fire Company, 1225 Old Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, DE 19707; The Challenge Program, 1124 E. 7th St., Wilmington, DE 19801; or the Cab Calloway School Fund, P.O. Box 4642, Wilmington, DE 19807.
For online condolences, please visit chandlerfuneralhome.com