“Do you want a ride, Dr. Paul?” The death of Ron Maddox, a few weeks ago, brought those words to mind – words he would shout on many mornings during my first years of working at the Wilder Foundation – whenever he drove by and saw me waiting for the bus, to travel to the Wilder Building on the corner of 5th and Washington in downtown Saint Paul (current site of the Ordway Theater). He, of course, had a Council member’s office at City Hall, a short distance from the Wilder Building.
The Pioneer Press story about his life characterized him as “a nonstop eruption of ideas, plans, gimmicks and projects for his beloved city.” (If you read Joe Soucheray’s recent column about Ron, you noticed that “eruption” was a literal, not figurative, description of his exchange of words with Norm Green at The Saint Paul Hotel in 1991.)
I frequently disagreed with Ron, either on the substance of his position or on the style of his approach. However, we had a respect for one another. He or his aide occasionally would call with questions, in the hope that I might enable them to see a new solution to a challenge they had to address. While they didn’t always accept my conclusions or agree with my advice, they always expressed appreciation for the insight, and they acknowledged the likely validity of my facts.
Several of Ron’s qualities deserve mention, for those of us dedicated to the success of Saint Paul. For one, he had a true, strong commitment to Saint Paul. He loved our city, believed in it, and dedicated his life’s efforts to the betterment of our residents. Many others in Saint Paul demonstrate this commitment, even though they have not entered into the public eye in the way that Ron did. I’ve witnessed their efforts in the city’s schools, which my children attended (one still does), on citizen work groups and task forces (multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-generational, in which residents joined together for the common good), and in other activities that have offered us the opportunity to work for our city.
Another of his positive qualities: a vision. He recognized the importance of constructing a vision – to inspire others and to provide a direction, a common goal to orient people’s plans. The importance of vision, along with the value of the people who have it and communicate it, has struck me over the years, as I’ve met with groups as varied as the Aurora-St. Anthony Block Clubs (now evolved into a Development Corporation), the East Side District 2 Community Council, University United, and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, and many more too numerous to mention (which, of itself, testifies to the energy of our city’s residents). Some of the groups which power our city have developed from grass roots; all rely on volunteers, even if some have paid staff. Among all of them, we can see people with vision and an entrepreneurial spirit, who want to create a better future for us and for future residents.
And finally, one of Ron’s attitudes: “get it done”. Like any effective leader, he recognized that discussion works to a point, but then action must prevail. If you read the newspaper account of his life, you noted how he stepped in on many occasions when things were stuck, and he pulled them through to an effective conclusion.
The city has many Rons. I’ve mentioned above how I’ve witnessed them; I won’t name any, for fear of leaving someone out. It’s comforting to know that, in their own ways, so many residents have commitment, have a vision, and are getting it done – with results that benefit not only those of us who live in Saint Paul, but those of us in this entire region, of which Saint Paul makes up an important, vibrant part of the center.