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Publication: Globe and Mail, The add link
Issue: 23 February 2010, page L6
Title: Ronald James Hill (Lives Lived)
Web Link: link

Lives Lived

Ronald James Hill

Athlete, scholar, advocate, storyteller, card shark, friend. Born Feb. 27, 1910, in Halifax. Died Dec. 21, 2009, in Halifax of sepsis, aged 99.

Ron Hill lived in the same West End Halifax neighbourhood since 1950. I first met him when I moved there in 1998. Ron was 88 and my wife and I took an immediate liking to him, but, given his age, we thought it unlikely we?d get to know him well. Remarkably, Ron lived to nearly 100 and we were fortunate to become good friends. Over the course of a dozen years and countless games of cribbage, Ron told me his life story.

Ron was born in the North End of Halifax in 1910 into a family of six boys. He and his family survived the Halifax explosion.

A gifted student and athlete, Ron was studying at Saint Mary?s College in 1927 when he was struck in the eye with a stick during a hockey game. The eye became infected. Antibiotics hadn?t been invented yet and the only treatment available was a compress made from boiled milk. The treatment was ineffective and the infection spread. Ron eventually lost both his eyes.

Recovery took some time, but Ron went on with his education, completing a bachelor?s and a master?s degree from Dalhousie University. He was the second blind person to graduate from Dalhousie and the first to receive an MA.

Finding work in the 1930s in Halifax was a challenge. Ron taught at the Halifax School for the Blind and translated books into Braille. He eventually moved to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to manage the Halifax canteen services. Ron worked for the CNIB for 37 years, retiring in 1977 as a regional director. He was known for his ?no-nonsense? approach and wasn?t afraid to close down operations that weren?t profitable. They were, as he said, running a business, not a charity.

While studying at Dalhousie, Ron met Lola Doyle, a Navy cipher clerk. In the 1940s marriage implied a certain responsibility and the two weren?t able to wed until Ron could financially support a family. Ron and Lola courted for more than a decade before marrying in 1950. Both were in their 40s by that time. There was one pregnancy, but the baby, a boy, was stillborn.

In the 1970s, Lola developed Alzheimer?s disease, but Ron kept her at home and cared for her. They used to walk around the neighbourhood on fine evenings. On one such walk Ron bumped into Eva Seifert, a friend from his early days at the CNIB. Ron and Eva renewed their friendship and Eva helped Ron care for Lola. Eva and Ron remained inseparable for the next 30 years.

What I?ll remember most about Ron was his stoicism. Life had dealt him blows that would have crushed most people, but Ron persevered and didn?t complain. What had happened had happened. The day before he died, when Ron was asked how he felt, he simply said, ?Not too bad, thanks.?

John Blake is Ron?s friend.