Remembering Ron

Ben Smith said it best, so I’ll just borrow his line. “Ron was probably the worst hiker I ever knew, but I would never want to go on a camping trip without him.”Ron Taylor Camping

I knew Ron forever as a colleague at the AJC, and was privileged to work with him, learn from him and to be his editor for some of the amazing early reporting he did on the AIDS epidemic.

But my best memories are about camping with him — in North Georgia on John and Diane Turner’s farm, on the Appalachian Trail, on Cumberland Island too many times to count, and in the Okefenokee Swamp. Young Alex was along on a few of those outings and so was exposed, I would guess, to more dubious adult shenanigans than most kids his age have to endure.

Anyway, these days, serious backpackers are all about ultralite – a space blanket, some energy bars and a water bottle and they’re off.

Ron was not about that. No matter how many times we ventured out, he would almost always have the heaviest pack. Ron always hiked for comfort, not for speed.

Spam, Ron? You bring a can of apocalypse food into the woods? “It doesn’t go bad,” he would offer. “And it’s pretty good when you fry it.”

So of course he would also bring a frying pan. And Cheese Whiz. And crackers. Camping stove. And a stovetop coffee percolator. And a very large lantern with fuel canister. Lots of rope. Knives. Hatchet. Pound of coffee. Several pounds of gorp. Lots of candy bars. Certainly a large bottle of Jack Daniels. And perhaps an extra water bottle full of Jameson’s (“By god, if we’re going to be out there for four days, we better be prepared.”)

Sometimes, on the second or third day out, you would hear Ron coming by the clanking of various things that were by now tied to his pack frame to air out.

And you were usually waiting to hear Ron coming. With a pack that weighed 50 pounds, he invariably arrived in camp about an hour after everyone else. At which point, he would plop down, curse the portion of his body that had betrayed him that day and announce he would help get dinner going after he rested up a bit.

And later, after a drink or two (or something), and some hot food and Irish coffee from a plastic camp cup, gathered around a fire (or the large lantern), he would tell the best stories. Ron was not only a great story teller, but also the best story audience. Ask his friends. Guaranteed that they all felt like they should consider open mike night at the Comedy Store if Ron was in the house. His was the warmest, most generous laugh I have ever known.

I remember the first time we walked through the woods from Yankee Paradise on Cumberland past the Duck House that I believe that Thomas Carnegie built so he wouldn’t have to get up early to travel all the way from the south end of the island to the north to shoot ducks when the sun came up. He could just stay at the three-bedroom duck house the night before and get up and shoot ducks with his coffee from the front stoop.

To some of us, it seemed like the ultimate wretched robber baron excess. Ron thought it was brilliant. Like Carnegie, Ron had somewhat of an aversion to getting up early. So clearly, Carnegie was a very wise man.

I remember landing canoes on the spillway in the Okefenokee Swamp and looking down the other side at what, to this day, were the biggest crowd of the largest fucking alligators I have ever seen. Easily 15 feet long and sloshing around just 50 feet away. Some with mouths open catching things that fell over the spillway.

We were all struck dumb for a moment and then Ron said, “Now I know how Johnny Weismuller must have felt.”

I remember hiking in North Georgia with Ron and Rich Whitt. Rich was a marathon runner and tended to hike pretty quickly. Not Ron’s style. I remember it started raining, and I caught up to Rich, and he said we should wait for Ron since the trail was so slick. I said it could be awhile. So we waited 30 minutes. No Ron. Rich said he was worried. I said I wasn’t, Ron traveled at his own pace. But Rich felt he needed to check, so he backtracked down the trail. About an hour later he was back. He has some of Ron’s stuff with him but no Ron. Now I was worried. What happened? Rich said Ron was about a mile and a half back, parked under a hemlock, smoking his pipe. Rich said he told him we were worried. Ron said he was very glad to hear that but that he was just fine, just waiting until the weather got a little better and then he would be along.

And he was.

He was the best. He was a great journalist, an incredibly gifted writer, but that was his day job. For his friends, he made time together memorable. And I will always be grateful to him for the adventures we shared.

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Hyde Post

Hyde Post

Hyde Post, 59, was vice president, media strategy, for News Distribution Network, from August 2009 to May 2011 and continues with NDN in a strategy consulting role. NDN is a digital video aggregation and distribution company based in Atlanta. Previously, he served as vice president, internet for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and its web portfolio, including ajc.com and accessatlanta.com, from August 2006 to July 2009.
He was one of the original developers of ajc.com in 1998. Under his direction, the AJC web portfolio grew from three employees to an organization that included more than 75 FTE's and generated annual revenues in excess of $25 million. Prior to focusing full-time on the web, he served as assistant managing editor in charge of the daily Atlanta Constitution and also headed the Innovation Group, a cross-functional skunkworks for new product development. He served previously with the newspaper as a reporter, special projects editor and assistant managing editor for local news. Projects he edited and/or directed garnered a number of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting (bank redlining in Atlanta -- 1988) and the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting (bacterial resistance to antibiotics --1993).
He currently works from St. Simons Island, Georgia as a consultant in the digital strategy and web development arena, and as a freelance writer and editor.
He also currently serves as a board member for the non-profit National Freedom of Information Coalition, and he is president and founder of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

15 Comments
  1. Hyde, thank you for making me laugh. I cherish the memories of our adventures at Johnny Turner’s mountain and on Cumberland Island. Your vivid descriptions of Ron — from his turtle-pace hiking style, to his knack for packing everything including the kitchen sink — brought him to life in my mind and heart. We are so fortunate to have such happy memories. ~Karen Thurston

  2. I wish that somehow I could have landed a job at the AJC with Ron and all you guys. My life is so much poorer for that failure. What a great time you all shared.

  3. Melinda Ennis

    Hyde, this is such a beautifully written and obviously heartfelt portrait of Ron. I literally laughed until I cried at your vivid depiction of Ron clunking around with his pack filled with Jack, Jamesons, Cheese Wiz and other essentials. Your obvious love for him shows through every line, and I know all those who also loved him are grateful that you captured his spirit and joy of life in such a compelling and memorable way.

  4. Chrys B. Graham

    Hyde, you caught that essence of Ron. He set his own pace and relished being with friends. Very funny and lovingly expressed. Thanks.

  5. Wonderful tribute, Hyde. You articulated something very special about Ron – he was not only a great storyteller, he made you feel like one too. Your jokes never bombed with Ron.

  6. Thank you, Hyde. He WAS a good story teller. After he made me get over the “you don’t have to worship me now that you work here” routine (I was a grad student and he and Teel wrote one of my textbooks), we would compare the idiotic things we’d do to get the attention of the opposite sex. Later on, while he’d be compiling pieces for the Itn’l briefs and I’d be at CNN reading through scripts, he’d tell me some crazy story that would cause me to bite my cheeks so I wouldn’t bust out laughing on the air. I’m lucky to have known him.

  7. What a lovely and loving tribute. Although I knew Ron much less well, I’ll never forget his easy laugh or the way he made all of us feel embraced. He was a gifted writer and a very good man.

  8. Thanks so much, Hyde, for sharing your adventures with Ron. Made me wish I could have been there.

  9. I loved his stories. I’ll say this: he could camp in villages outside Madurai, India. He was that good of a teller. He may not know the language but he could pick up dialects and banter back with offending anyone. Great listener as someone mentioned. Hopefully, he will get to go more places.

  10. you really captured his essence in these stories, hyde. i had never heard the one about him waiting for the weather to clear, but it’s a classic.

  11. Wonderful capture of one of Ron’s many interesting sides, Hyde. Thanks.

  12. As someone who has camped with Ron on more than one occasion, I must say that you painted the experience perfectly. Loads of fun, and great stories. I’ll never forget camping at … Vogel, I think it was.. and my wife waking me up in the middle of the night thinking there was a bear in camp. It was Ron snoring in the other tent. He found that particularly funny the next morning.

  13. Hyde, thank you. Vividly well done. Puts me in mind of Ron’s pace in the newsroom. I swear I never once saw his fingers on the keyboard. He would just be sitting there, maybe tamping down his pipe, while the rest of us stampeded toward deadline. Ron, of course, would saunter up to the desk in the nick of time with his story, always beautifully written.

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