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  • We're strolling sluggishly down the once familiar streets of downtown DeLand, Sara and I, two weeks too early for the book signing. But we've bought the book.

    Past the New Age store and the tailor's, we fade onto a bench at the edge of the breezy sidewalk, unable to resist cracking Ronald's book open. It seems fitting somehow to be reading it here, in this place, at this time--a homage not only to the man, the writer, but the places he's brought to life over the years with his poignant words.

    I've always thought that Ronald--the Man Behind the Desk Scattered with Strange Things--was the best writer at the newspaper. His West Volusia office filled with old and meaningful curios has long been emptied; we can no longer wander inside in search of conversation, inspiration and sanity.

    He works mostly from home now since shifting from the closed bureau to the noisy main newsroom without even a tiny hole to call his own. I miss seeing his Crusoe-like frame, his grey beard, the claw he'd make with his hand every time someone entered his office--a sort of defense mechanism to keep strangers at bay. I miss searching out the sadness in his eyes.

    "Kc," he'd greet with an endearing mixture of dread and fondness, bringing up the Claw.

    "Rwww," I'd respond, plopping into an amber leather chair, my ad hoc psych's couch. Or sometimes: "Uncle Wonald!"

    When I left the country last year, he was one of the only ones who sought me out, sending haiku-like e-mails inquiring about my adventures and trials, my writing and the changing season that had become my life.

    It's true that there are passages in this life that bring us into contact with some amazing people and I'm continuously reminded, even in his painful absence, how much of a beautiful human being Ronald Williamson is. It makes me want to reach out and hug him when I do seem him. Though that seldom succeeds.

    He has this uncanny knack for profoundly capturing people and places, for finding the beauty and restoring my faith in this Southern county through the tiny moments that make life a fulfilling journey.

    The funny thing is that I don't think Ronald knows how many lives and people he's touched--reporters, readers, those he's met along the story's way. I don't think he will ever know how much love and regard I have for him as a writer, a mentor and an awesome human being.

    In his introduction he writes in true self-aggrandizing style: Each story is not necessarily the best story that could be told, or the most interesting, or the greatest, or perhaps not even the story that should have been told. They're merely the stories that were possible to tell at a given time, in a given place. And, I hope, stories worth telling.

    Oh, Ronald. If you only knew how much those stories mean to so many people, including a once fledging reporter who sought advice from and solace in a wiser fellow creative, who finds inspiration in words written long before she came along.

    With the state of the newspaper industry and, indeed, our own paper, I sometimes wonder how long it'll be before Ronald must leave us, whether it is of his own choosing or with accepting relief. What kind of times are we living in if we don't fight, don't do everything in our power, to keep writers and people like Ronald? I don't think I even want the answer to that.

    On the bench today, I flip open to the first column in the book, "Blind Sarah."

    "Look," I tell the Sara at my side. "Blind Sarah." We smile.

    We read four pages to the end. I shut the book and lean back, staring upwards. The old buildings are no match for the skyline. I exhale contentedly.

    "You know what?" I say. "I feel so at peace right now."

    For this is what Ronald does: Ronald moves me. With goose-pimpled arms, we stand in the city whose streets we once walked everyday, books clutched carefully to our sides, and make our way home.

    I wrote this post in October 2008. Since then, I left the paper and Ronald was laid off, though not necessarily in that order. He lives in Deland and continues to write and edit on private projects. I thought about him today and dug this up. Walk good, Ronald.
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