Peace Magazine: In Memoriam, Ronald Shirtliff

Peace Magazine

In Memoriam, Ronald Shirtliff

• published Jul 18, 2023 • last edit Jul 22, 2023

By Metta Spencer

Peace Magazine mourns the loss of a stalwart pillar of our editorial team, our beloved Ron Shirtliff. For decades, he stood with us, though some of our newer members may not have had the chance to know him. Since the onset of the Covid pandemic, our meetings transitioned to Zoom, and in the past couple of years, Ron, sadly succumbing to Parkinsonism, ceased attending. Moreover, for approximately five years preceding Covid, Ron and his partner Janet had spent their winters in Mexico.

Those of us who have been part of the team for the long haul fondly remember countless meetings at my dining table. We would pore over submissions and annotate page proofs, frequently digressing into lively discussions about politics and life. Amidst sips of wine and bites of rice crackers – one of the few snacks Ron’s Celiac disease allowed him to enjoy – he would thoughtfully evaluate each submission, always insightful, never overly critical. When the call came to review a book or draft a grant proposal, Ron was both willing and adept. The world is certainly a better place for having had people like Ron.

Born on a Manitoba farm, Ron was orphaned as an infant when his mother tragically passed. His Aunt Elizabeth and her husband near Glen Roy, Ontario raised him. His small stature and seemingly delayed maturity were the effects of undiagnosed Celiac disease, which was not explained to him until he reached his thirties. The doctor must have advised his aunt to feed him bananas instead of bread, but though she provided lots of bananas, nobody seems to have advised him to skip the bread.

Ron possessed a knack for fixing things. Whether it was a malfunctioning stapler or a broken chair, he was my go-to handyman. His son Geoffrey shared that one of Ron’s early jobs was as a TV repairman during the era of replaceable vacuum tubes. Apart from his technical skills, Ron cherished the great outdoors, maintaining part of Aunt Elizabeth’s farmland as a tree farm after the remainder was sold. He’d regularly drive his kids there, a hefty five hour commute from Toronto to camp and plant tree seeds collected from the city.

When Ron joined our editorial board, he was already a respected professor emeritus of English from Ryerson University. He had been a part of the governing council during the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s, a time marked by students challenging the administration. Always siding with the students, Ron was no rabble-rouser himself (his temperament was too gentle for that) but his political sympathies were known at the time, so he was a controversial figure. To this day, the records of these heated meetings remain sealed.

His son Geoffrey recalls a sabbatical year the family spent at Oxford, where Ron immersed himself in English literature under the tutelage of one of the era’s renowned literary critics. Despite his illustrious academic career, Ron was humble, even on LinkedIn, where he listed his occupation as simply “teacher.”

In truth, he was indeed a teacher to us all on the editorial team. Not through formal lessons of literary criticism, but by exemplifying modesty, geniality, and genuine friendship. On the day of his passing, he sent a loving goodbye message. I was reluctant to let him go. But now we can say tenderly: Goodbye, our treasured friend.

Metta Spencer is editor of Peace Magazine and Project Save the
World. She is a professor emeritus of sociology, University of Toronto.

Published in Peace Magazine Vol.39, No.3 Jul-Sep 2023
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