For the better part of two years, Ron Anderson walked.
He walked with purpose and he walked with dignity. He walked with grace and he walked with great hope.
But mostly, he just walked.
“Need a ride, Ron?”
“Nah, I’ll walk,” was his usual response.
He walked through downtown Columbus and the Historic District. Sometimes at 2 a.m., he would struggle to circle the 600 block of Broadway and Front Avenue just to keep moving, keep living.
He walked the seven blocks to coffee dates with friends, former students at the Springer Theatre Academy and preachers from all walks of faith. He even walked to the John B. Amos Cancer Center a time or two for treatment and appointments.
He walked step after step, mile upon mile, the entire time teaching us what it means to do something as simple as walk.
Last week as cancer had spread throughout his body, Ron tried with great purpose to keep walking. It was a beautiful and painful struggle for life. As long as Ron Anderson was walking, he was living.
When a doctor tells you on Oct. 1, 2014, that you have a year to live, you treasure every step, even in the brutal August heat and humidity of 2016 — no matter how hard those steps have become.
Last Friday, the long walk of 64 years was coming to an end. Ron was admitted to Midtown Medical Center with intense pain as the cancer that started in his pancreas had spred to his brain and spinal fluid.
No more walking. And the only thing that was going to stop him from walking was a hospital bed.
He was gone in five days, dying early Wednesday morning at the Columbus Hospice with his wife, Debbie, and friends surrounding him.
To understand his walk, you have to understand those he touched and taught. Though he was not in a traditional classroom setting — there was little traditional about him — he was a teacher. Ask any of the thousands of kids he taught “life skills through stage skills.” Better yet, just look at their social media posts.
A month ago, Ron was having coffee with a former student. A table away, I was doing the same thing with Stefan Lawrence, the 2016 Muscogee County Teacher of the Year.
The two men didn’t know each other, so I introduced them. They had a short conversation that lasted maybe five minutes tops. But it was obvious the two were cut from the same special cloth, only Ron did his work in the theater and Stefan at Carver High School.
As Stefan was headed for the door, he turned around and asked if he could take a picture with Ron. Questioned later, Stefan summed up the moment in an succinct way and he captured the spirit of a fellow educator.
“I would have never guessed he was stricken like he was stricken,” Stefan said. “His attitude was so good.”
Over the next few days and weeks, you will read and hear many tributes to Ron Anderson. You will hear from people who have had life-altering experiences because of his touch.
And it happened — many times over.
For me, the best tribute to my friend is simple — just walk.