Ron Anderson could come at you with a grin like Alice’s Cheshire Cat — it sort of preceded him. It arrived before the lanky, Jimmy Stewartish rest of him and lingered after he left.
Everybody who knew Ron — which as far as I can tell, is pretty much everybody — knows that grin. A grin of wit and benevolent mischief, in which smugness or self-satisfaction never made even a cameo appearance.
He’d like the “Alice” reference. Once in the Springer years ago — I don’t remember when or for what, but it doesn’t matter — a group of people were taking a tour of the building and somehow a line from “Jabberwocky” popped up. I found myself, as if by reflex, rattling off the next few lines, with Ron’s dramatic accompaniment saving me from total embarrassment. (I’m grateful for a lot of things about the gift of knowing Ron, but that one somehow ranks right up there.)
He was so affable and unpretentious that it could almost come as a shock to be reminded of his talent. Lively creativity and artistic discipline are a rare combination; Ron was blessed with, and worked hard at nurturing, both.
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I saw those gifts at work, though not often enough, from the Springer audience. I saw them up close during a couple of intense months when I was privileged to be a member of Ron’s cast of “Inherit the Wind” in 2010. The pressures of that production were scary enough for one secondary actor. Ron Anderson, in charge of the whole thing, maintained a level of cool and humor that kept everybody on the tracks.
(Something else that lingers from that experience is the essential truth of the dictum that in drama there is no such thing as a “small” role. Seeing the dimensions those actors put into every single character on that stage was a revelation … and that’s probably due in large part to Ron, too. I’ve never looked at a “minor” role in a play or movie the same way since.)
For a very brief time after we started dress rehearsals, my character (the trial judge) wore a hat in his one scene away from the courtroom. It was a really stupid hat. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.
After only one or two run-throughs in costume, Ron was going over his post-rehearsal notes with the cast.
“Judge — where’s the judge?” I raised my hand. “I don’t know whether you’re supposed to be Jake or Elwood, but lose the hat.” I’m laughing again as I write it.
It was during those weeks of rehearsal and performance that we really began to share our love of movies and actors, and of talking about them. In the years since, over a couple of pints at the Cannon or lunch at Iron Bank, the three things we talked about most were politics (usually just briefly, because there are far more important things); the Braves; and movies, TV shows or series we liked in common. I loved it when we knew by heart the same lines from the same actors (we could just about do whole scenes from “The West Wing”).
None of that really changed after Ron learned he had inoperable cancer. The first time we had lunch together after his diagnosis, I think the first thing he said had to do with a politician I’d just interviewed for the L-E: “Man, talk about an empty suit.”
Among my favorite Ron stories — and this one is second hand, because I wasn’t there — is the one about his conversations with God … who, Ron told his audience, “still isn’t sure about the Braves moving to Cobb County.”
Ron and God have by now probably had that conversation up close, and my guess is that Ron was right. I don’t presume to speak for God, but there’s ample evidence He is giving neither Cobb County nor the Braves anything in the way of divine intervention.
Not long ago we were exchanging text messages, and the subject of the Braves came up. I was grousing about all the good players they’d let get away. His response was a picture message — a selfie of Ron with a Braves cap on his head and a scowl on his face.
Even through the scowl you could see the grin.
Dusty Nix, 706-571-8528; firstname.lastname@example.org.