By Shannon Penrod
There are some people in your life that are so special, so monumentally important, that to think of a time when they are not there anymore is simply unthinkable. Ron Medici is one of those people in my life. If you don’t know Ron, ugh, I feel so sorry for you! But the truth is if you know me, you probably know Ron or at least of him. You’ve heard me quote him, or I’ve passed on something he taught me. He’s taught me a lot over the years.
I first met Ron when I was 17 years old. It was the spring of 1980 and my father brought me to the SUNY Oswego campus to see if I might like to go to college there. I saw the lake and met Ron Medici and that was enough for me, I’d chosen where I was going to go to college. Ron was new at Oswego, he had just directed Godspell. He intimidated the crap out of me, but I wanted to work with him. He knew Bob Fosse, to me that was like knowing God.
By the time I was a sophomore I was no longer intimidated by Ron, but I was still in awe of him, that has never changed. Ron was my teacher, my mentor and he still is my friend. There was one semester that I took two classes back to back with Ron. The first was an acting class the second was a directing class. A group of us decided to take the two classes together. The funny thing is I learned more about directing in the acting class than I ever have in any class and in the directing class I learned more about acting that I have anywhere at anytime. But it was even more than that. In that directing class I learned who I was as an artist and as a person. I learned what true grief was, and for the first time in my life I learned that I would not die from having an emotion. Yes, that all came from Ron. And the group of people who were in that class with me, they are still some of the most important people in my life. That class was a game changer. Knowing Ron has been a huge game changer.
As a teacher Ron was honest with me. It pissed me off at times but I knew he was telling me the truth. What I didn’t know was how much it cost to tell a student the truth. Later when I became a teacher I came to know that secret, I realized how much easier it is to give some one a thumbs up than to be honest. I saved hard truths for the students that I really cared about. And I appreciated Ron’s honesty all the more.
Eventually I had the opportunity to go back to my alma mater and teach along side Ron Medici. Oh, the joy of that! There are so many memories. The Senior teas that were held at Ron’s house, where we graciously entertained our graduating classes and their families; the long weekends of final directing scenes and watching Ron rub his eyes, shake his forehead and then laugh at what the students had created, the stolen Wednesday afternoons in Room 102 when Ron would decide to teach everyone in the building how to waltz, or jitterbug, or some crazy country line dance, there are a life time of good memories.
But by far the most wonderful thing about Ron is that he is always unapologetically, completely and totally himself and in doing so he gives all of us around him permission to do the same for ourselves. This is the greatest gift a teacher can give a student and a friend can give to a friend. I can not count the number of people that Ron has given this gift to but I know that I am a recipient and I know that it has made my life richer, happier and more fulfilled.
Over the years I have told Ron how much I love him, in many ways and on many occasions. I know he knows how much I adore him. But there is still so much unsaid. How on earth do you thank someone for helping you to become who you are? How do you tell someone that you carry the wisdom they have given you everyday. I don’t know.
This summer I sat on a picnic table at the edge of Lake Ontario with my good friend Ron Medici and listened as he told me that he thought he had pancreatic cancer. Time and tests have proven what we hoped was not true. True to form Ron continues to teach me what it means to live with dignity. He is hopeful, honest, optimistic and staring reality in the face. Selfishly, I am not ready for this. But I fear the unsaid. So…
Thank you for being a light in my life that will never dim. Thank you for loving me for who I am, for seeing the best of me, for pushing me to be my best and for forgiving me when I was less than my best. Thank you for trying to introduce me to opera. Thank you for giving me the gift of unending tears on stage, and for the knowledge that they will eventually stop off stage. Thank you for being the only man I have ever been able to follow on the dance floor, and for making me feel like Ginger Rodgers. Thank you for being my friend.
I want you to know that I will love you all the days of my life and that everything you’ve ever taught me, including how to do cartwheels when you are hung over, lives on in my memory and my teachings.
You are a beautiful person and your life has touched so many people. You have given all of us joy, hope and the permission to be who we are. You are a hero in my eyes. Knowing you has been one of the great joys of my life. I love you so.
To everyone else I say that now is not the time for grief, now is the time to say what you need to say. No regrets, nothing left unsaid. Tell the people in your life how you feel about them and please include my friend Ron in you prayers.