A tribute to my friend Ron, a senior advocate and so much more

The last time I talked to my friend Ron Deutsch of Lawrenceville’s 9th Ward was on Super Bowl Sunday. For true sons of Pittsburgh like us, it wasn’t really the Super Bowl since the Steelers weren’t playing. Ron summed it up best: “I’ll be happy as long as the Patriots don’t get another ring.” Ron got his wish.

Those rings are symbols of something you hold in your heart, not just wear on your hand, especially for all of the Pittsburghers who toughed it out here in the 1970s rather than relocate to other cities when the steel industry began to leave the Steel City. Ron stayed home and employed his fierce loyalty to family, friends and his neighborhood with what Coach Noll called a “whatever-it-takes attitude.”

I first met Ron in the 1980s when he worked for Senator Leonard Bodack and I was Community Relations Coordinator/Press Secretary for The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. “Mr. PennDOT” was not a title I competed for but rather was awarded by virtue of my constant media appearances telling people where to go and how to get there. Ron was part of the process to serve constituents in the 38th Senatorial District representing the eastern part of Pittsburgh and the Allegheny Valley. Some say the “caterpillar does the work, but the butterfly gets the reviews.” The next time you travel Route 28 between 40th Street and Etna, think of Ron. Sen. Bodack got the reviews for the barrier that eliminated the “death stretch” and the vertical blinds above the barrier, shielding drivers’ eyes from oncoming headlights, but Ron got the job done.

We picked up our relationship again during Bob O’Connor’s campaign for Mayor in 2005. As Policy Manager and Communications Director, I helped Bob steer his victorious campaign, and as Democratic Ward Chairman, Ron helped deliver the 9th Ward. I’m not sure what Ron loved most: politics or the voting process. Art Rooney once said that politics is about “who gets what.” Ron understood that as well as anybody. He never got anything for himself but sure helped a lot of others. Better than anybody he understood that it doesn’t happen unless you GOTV . . . Get Out The Vote. He did this for many years in Lawrenceville’s 9th Ward and for many city and countywide candidates.

Without Ron, there would be a group of different faces today on Grant Street, Ross Street and Commonwealth Avenue.
We once had a conversation about nicknames of people that we knew growing up and met along the way of our careers. We kept an alphabetized list of the names with little footnotes, people like Red, Angel, Monk, Strokey, Yunzie, Candy and Peanuts. The one that always got an uproarious laugh from Ron was Landslide, the 10th Ward Alderman who won by one vote. You might well imagine the stories and remarks we heard over the years. After some flabbergasting remarks, we’d scratch our heads and Ron would say, “You haven’t seen it all ‘til you’ve seen it all and you haven’t heard it all ‘til you’ve heard it all.” It was his favorite expression.

Fortunately for Ron (and me), we both eventually moved from the fifth floor to the fourth floor of City Hall. Five is where the politicians and politics reside making promises, four and below is where the various departments turn them into programs. We weren’t working together very long in the Senior Program of Allegheny County Parks and Recreation before we nicknamed four the “Floor of Smiles” because we always said yes and made
people happy.

Ron once told me that his secret over 83 years was “to live today and be grateful for what you have.” I wanted to take some time to be grateful for all the days we spent together up to that day after the Super Bowl; hence, this article. God handpicks your friends for you without your consultation. They show up one day, unceremoniously and unannounced, under all kinds of circumstances. You don’t realize they are your friends until a lot of water flows down the Allegheny.

  • Someone might be your friend if they treat you the way you want to be treated rather than the way they think you want to be treated. Ron and I called this the “Platinum Rule.”
  • Someone might be your friend if they come to your defense in a discussion among people and you don’t know about it until someone that was there tells you after the fact.
  • Someone might be your friend if they call you after work hours and discuss something with you that might benefit your customers and make things better for the organization.
  • And someone might be your friend if you can discuss your core beliefs, what makes you tick, with them without being embarrassed. After Ron’s next-to-last visit to our neighborhood funeral home, we both agreed, “If we could understand God’s plan he wouldn’t be much of a god. Better to not put a question mark where God puts the period.”

What we did wasn’t a “job” in the City or County; it was our work. You couldn’t have found two people more suited to relating to people needs, fixing things that are broken, and lending a helping hand, an open mind and an ear to listen to their side of the story. We had a sense of justice and the ability to right wrongs and put things back on track. Between the two of us, you had a lot of experience and you can’t find an app for experience. That’s the way we looked at it.

After Ron and I left our jobs at the City around 2015, we were both reunited by District Attorney Zappala in his Senior Justice Office. Ron was back where he wanted to be and where he belonged working with the “older people.” On his last birthday (June 16, 2017), Ron was 83, so he was himself a senior representing seniors. As a senior advocate, Ron reached out to thousands of people born before 1958 and helped stop more than $4.9 million in fraud against them. Teaming with Assistant District Attorney Julie Capone, the conviction rate on abuse cases was nearly 100 percent. Most people would be proud to have done that during their career. Ron did that in just 18 months.
The day after the Super Bowl, Ron’s daughter called me to tell me that Ron had “heard all there was to hear and seen all there was to see.” It would now all be revealed to him. Even now, I can hear him saying, “Hey, I’m okay. Don’t worry about me, I don’t need anything. Let me know if you need any help.” Ron would be the first to say enough already, he left us some work to do so let’s get on with it. Let me know if you’d like to help or want to share some memory of what Ron did for you.

Dick Skrinjar can be reached at (412) 350-4447 or dskrinjar@alleghenycountyda.us.

By Dick Skrinjar For Pittsburgh Senior News

Featured photo caption: Ron and Irene Deutsch.

At work with Ron.
Ron as a youngster.