"He was a very gentle and caring child," our mother said. Every night when she tucked Ron into bed he looked into her eyes and said, "Mommy, I will always love you." Many times over the years their love for each other would be severely challenged. However, the bond of unconditional love between a mother and her child remained intact over a lifetime of six decades.
Ronald Fullerton Price was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 30, 1939. He was of Old- World English Virginia ancestry and German immigrant heritage. Not long after Ron's birth, our parents left Chicago, moved south and eventually settled in Belleville, Illinois, a small town across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, just east of East St. Louis. He received his grade school and high school education in Belleville.
During his early years in Blessed Sacrament Grade School, it became evident that Ron had a special talent. He would sit with pencil and paper at the small wooden table located in the center of the bedroom he shared with his two brothers and for hours draw pictures of figures. According to our mother, football players were a favorite. Impressed with his son's talent, our father filled out and mailed in an application for a talent evaluation and home school art course which he had found advertised on the cover of a paper match book. This was Ron's introduction to the outside world of art. when he completed grade school, he entered Cathedral High School and graduated on the 31st day of May, 1957 at the age of 18.
The next two decades were filled with turbulence and chaos. Ron fell victim to two diseases suffered by untold numbers of people: alcoholism and manic-depression. His first attempt to acquire a college education in Miami in the late 1950's failed after just one year. A second try at college in Carbondale, Illinois in the mid-1960's also failed. His marriage produced one son, then ended in divorce. Efforts to hold a job for any length of time met with similar results. Ron sunk deeper into the abyss of alcoholism and was slowly falling prey to his yet to be recognized mental illness.
Years later Ron said that his "first bout with insanity was in 1966." That was the first manic episode that he recognized. Although he was victim to a number of hypomanias occurring during the years prior to this episode, they went unrecognized by him, his family and medical professionals. Perhaps the first indication of mental illness occurred in 1960 when Ron was working for our father in Belleville. He asked his wife to take him to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. "Something is wrong with me, I don't know what it is but I know there's something wrong. I want to be admitted to the psychiatric ward." He was discharged without a diagnosis.
After his divorce, Ron moved to Gainesville, Florida to attend The University of Florida and study art. His alcoholism and mental illness accompanied him. The behavior spawned by these diseases could be belligerent, obnoxious and reprehensible. It led to numerous arrests, jails and asylums. His mental illness, despite the numerous hospitalizations, went undiagnosed, a fate all too familiar and tragic among individuals with this disease during that time. It was impossible to hold a job for any length of time. The behavior continued to be "blamed" on his drinking problem. But he persisted, creating art and not discarding the original purpose of coming to Gainesville. In spite of these obstacles, Ron was finally successful in meeting the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts, which he received from the University of Florida, Gainesville in 1972. This was a singular and remarkable achievement for a 33 year old manic-depressive alcoholic.
Those years had taken their toll on Ron, his family and friends. The scars stemming from alcoholism and an undiagnosed mental illness accumulated. The years of misunderstandings, unresolved conflicts, resentments, disappointments and unrequited love led to alienation between Ron and some of his friends and family members, and tragically to the irrevocable estrangement between him and his father. The fall of 1975 found him in Gainesville, Florida without a job, home, money or friends. At the invitation of an old friend, he left for San Francisco. He took with him his alcoholism and mental illness. He left behind family and his works of art.
During the first three years in San Francisco, the drinking and episodes of depression and mania continued to make it impossible to hold a job for any length of time, and led to arrests and numerous hospitalizations. Although he did find time to make some drawings during these years, they were either destroyed or lost. In 1978, Ron was finally diagnosed as manic-depressive, twelve years after his first psychotic manic episode. The long and difficult road back to sanity had started.
However, an event was yet to happen that would test the limits of his strength and will.
Four years later, Ron had quit drinking and achieved a comfortable state of psychological equilibrium. This was soon to be shattered. In December of 1982, his son was brutally murdered in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
The anguish, anger and despair were crushing. A psychotic mania followed requiring hospitalization. It took a long time for him to recover. However, the following years saw a gradual and steady return to health and sobriety, and by the late 1980's Ron was writing and again creating art. The scars and separation between Ron and his family were on the mend, and equanimity was within reach.
In February of 1993, Ron was accepted into the Graphic Arts Workshop in San Francisco. His spirits soared with this turn of events in his life. He created numerous works of art during the following years and formed deep and abiding friendships with his colleagues at the Workshop. The following is a February, 1993 entry in his diary. "Goddamn, all day printing at the GAW-son of a bitch-what have I been doing for the last 25 years?" My brother had finally found peace after two and one-half decades of wandering through the dark and murky halls of alcoholism and madness.
But these few halcyon years were to be cut short. In July of 1997, Ron was found to have lung cancer. The malignancy had already spread to other parts of his body. It was not only inoperable, but found to be resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. As his health deteriorated, weakness and overwhelming fatigue kept him from his art, but his ideas and creativity continued in his mind.
Thursday, August 21st, 1997. Diary entry, "Continuation of NEW LITURGY-insert FLOPPY DISC. Began this monotype series circa 1992-93. It continues in the brain-too exhausted-fatigued to do actual work on it now."
On Tuesday, September 16th, referring to the side effects of chemotherapy, he wrote, "8:30 A.M. Let's see now. They will probably last all day. Yesterday, i.e. Monday, they lasted about 3 hours at night. Sunday-late for about an hour before bedtime. Had Kemo Thursday. And Friday, Saturday and most of Sunday I was in good health. The constant or perennial side effect (all the time) is FATIGUE. It is a total weakness-never felt like this (before). In the past working 8 hours a day, drinking and out all night seems to have been an impossibility. This disease completely debilitates the entire body."
November 1997, Thanksgiving. Our mother, 92 years old and frail, made the trip from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to Memphis, Tennessee. Despite the effects of therapy and the relentless sapping of his strength by an incurable cancer, Ron traveled from San Francisco to our home in Memphis. Both knew the reason for their journeys. This could well be their last time together. That bond between mother and child had survived all those past tangled, torturous and painful years.
In spite of the physical and emotional pain he endured, never once did he indicate by word or deed that sympathy was needed or wanted. Understanding-yes. Love-yes. Sympathy-never. "I was a little tired today so I wasn't able to go." Or, "I'm sorry I must have been sleeping when you called." Statements of fact-not entreaties for sympathy. When he informed me and my wife that he had cancer, he said, "I know you will feel bad about this, probably more so than I, please don't."
Ron actively engaged life up till the very end. Although he was confined to bed, the night before he died a small group of friends came to his apartment for a party. He welcomed them with enthusiasm, his eyes sparkling with delight and happiness at their presence.
Ron taught us how to die. Those of us who knew and loved him, and were with him during the last months and weeks of his life learned by his example that death is just one of the many parts of life. He showed us how to accept it with dignity, understanding and peace of mind.
Ron died at 12:15 p.m., January 9th, 1998 at his home in the Carmelita Apartments on Valencia Street in San Francisco's Mission District. He was 59 years old.