Ron McCrea has been my close friend since we met in 1970. By trade, he is a journalist, from a family of journalists. He spent several periods living away from Madison, the last time working on the editorial staff of Newsday in New York. But he's back here now, charming and ebullient as ever, married to an extraordinary and utterly charming woman, and editing Madison's afternoon daily paper, The Capital Times. As of this writing we've known each other for over 30 years.
But much earlier, on the occasion of my 40th birthday in 1975, he wrote a remarkable small book as a gift to commemorate our friendship. He himself was then about to leave for New York for a long stay. The book consists of 40 one-page vignettes, some of them a single line, and not all of them devoted to my stronger points, to say the least. The work wasn't really conceived with a view to being read by anyone but me. One result is that people who don't know either of us might be rather taken aback by some of the content, which is brutally honest in the way only a solid friendship could support. All things taken together, and even if I have to wince with embarrassment here and there, I still find myself delighted with it, all these years later. Judge for yourself, if you like, by reading Jess: 40 Exposures.
It's odd how friendships work, I think. Of the six people I'm writing about in this section, three are gone from this earth and two others live far away. Only Ron is right here in Madison. Yet we hardly ever see each other, as our daily lives only rarely intersect, and for whatever reason we don't go out of our way to maintain more regular contact. In a way, I guess that's one measure of friendship: no special effort is required, the person is just there. I guess this should be defined as a good thing; in any case that's how it works for us.
Though he's a great Wisconsin liberal now, having served as press secretary to Gov. Anthony Earl (the predecessor of the present incumbent, the bumbling Tommy Thompson, whom I regard as a great crook), Ron worked for the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election. He also served as the editor of the very conservative paper, the Quincy Herald-Whig, in Quincy, Illinois. I used to kid him mercilessly about these conservative connections.
But one reason we're friends is that he has such a highly developed sense of the ironic. Only Ron would have thought, while conjuring fantastic presents for my 40th birthday party, to present the mats from the first front page he ever edited for the Herald-Whig. I regarded it as a minor miracle that he even had the damn things! Another reason I cherish him is that he has an incredible memory for dialog, as the little booklet mentioned above shows. Every smart-ass remark anyone ever made in his presence is indelibly engraved in his memory.
In the early days of Gay Liberation in Madison, Ron was one of the group's mainstays, able to articulate political positions and tactical situations with clarity and keen perception. The last time I talked to him, it was to lay plans for a possible collaboration on writing up some of that history for presentation here.
[more to come]