It was a memorial service unlike any I’d been to before. The church filled quickly, and the tears you’d expect to see were plentiful. But there was something else – in every story, every remembrance, there were these big bursts of laughter. It was as if the focus of our grief was in the director’s chair. Because boy, did he know how to make a crowd laugh.
Sanborn. Born. Shakey. Ron Sanborn was called all of these by various groups of his admirers, friends, and family. To some he was a fellow actor, to others a lifelong buddy. And while many hadn’t met before this day, it was as though Ron himself had made the introductions. There were guys who could imitate his laugh – a goofy giggle that came out of a booming body – with such perfection that I almost did a double-take. There were hugs upon hugs between people who hadn’t seen each other in too many years. The love and laughter mixed in with the sorrow to make for a unforgettable day.
My initial encounter with Ron was unlike any other of my life. An avid follower of the Actor’s Shakespeare Company, with whom Ron did lots of his work, I wanted to be more than an audience member. I wanted to get to know the actors. Because he was so friendly, I’d always introduce myself to Ron and say hi. But he couldn’t remember my name.
After a couple of times, I came up with a solution, telling him I’d give him $20 the next time if he remembered who I was. At the end of the next performance he spotted me.
“Paula!” he boomed. I grinned and handed him the money, over his (slight) protest. He never forgot again, and I made a connection that will never leave me.
Ron was one of “those” guys who enter a room and take it over. He would joke, he’d sing, do voices… a quintessential entertainer who loved seeing people happy. Everything he did was big; his life seemed to be a reflection of his huge heart. He talked big, he drank big – his neighborhood bar was a big part of celebrating his life. The combination of booze and friendly faces was made for Ron Sanborn.
I hung out with him in a bar once. It was during my “Hemingway phase,” when I’d determined that with a trip to Key West and consumption of whiskey, I could channel his creative spirit. Three of us sat in a local pub, and while I can’t honestly say I remember much after glass number 3 (or maybe it was 4) – I know that Ron sang karaoke and I can pretty much guarantee it was great. The next day was not so fun, but the memories made were worth the pain. Ron was worth it.
When he died, so, so far too soon, the stories poured forth. Friends with little kids posting videos of Sanborn reading Green Eggs & Ham, cracking himself up. Tales of his flirting between scenes during shows in the park. And flirting nearly everywhere else, too. He was irredeemable, in the very best sense of the word.
His irreverent personality was complemented by a reverence for his duty to his fellow man. As a treasured member of his church he cooked meals for the homeless and built houses – he was one of those people who Mr. Rogers told us to keep an eye out for:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Ron was a helper of the highest order.
It’s almost impossible to place a value on someone who makes you feel the kind of joy he did. It’s as though Ron was put on Earth to do just that. The laughter that followed him around wasn’t polite. It was huge, from the belly, the kind that leaves your sides aching.
The older I get, the more clear it is that having fun should always be at the top of my to-do list. The time spent worrying has done me little good and I am looking more closely at the joyous people around me for guidance. Not because they are perfect, but because their overriding instinct is to smile, and to make someone else do the same. The outpouring of love for Ron, both when he fell ill and when he passed away, was proof of how much value a laugh can leave behind.
So, my three takeaways for my own life, courtesy of the wisdom of Sanborn:
- Laugh loudly, and laugh often. Fear not that others will think me mad, and invite them to join me in the merriment instead.
- Follow my passions – Ron held a corporate day job, but infused his life with creative pursuits that fulfilled his soul. I must muster the courage to do the same.
- Love freely and with gusto. Give big hugs, let people know how happy they make me. Read to little children, travel with friends. Make every day count.
And flirt, as often as possible.
To end, I give you a quote from Herman Melville, which sounds just like something Ron would say: