by Len Lear
Nineteenth century Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle famously wrote, “No pressure, no diamonds.” Or one might paraphrase: “No hard work, no results.” One local testament to that truism is Ron Petrou, a long-time Mt. Airy resident with boundless curiosity and enthusiasm about all things artistic, intellectual and spiritual, who died of cancer July 30 in Bryn Mawr Hospital at age 83.
Typical of Ron's passion for learning is the fact that he was part of a Torah study group for the last 20 years at Congregation Or Ami in Lafayette Hill, even though he was not Jewish. (Another member of the Torah study group and good friend of Ron's, Carole Verona, died July 7 at the age of 77.)
“Ron was a beloved soul who was always taking notes,” said Rabbi Glenn Ettman, spiritual leader of Or Ami. “When I first met him, I was shocked at how he would write down so much, and then I came to learn that he not only wrote it down but KEPT it all. And that he wrote in a journal every night about everything he learned that day, apparently since he was 14.
“He had such an exuberance for stories. He often would get choked up telling his own stories about literature or his life and especially his daughter … As I write this, I can hear Ron's voice laughing and learning and telling stories with our beloved Carole Verona. May his memory be a blessing as he was such a blessing to and for us.”
Of all the freelance writers who have contributed articles over the years to the Local, no one was more enthusiastic than Ron. He would call over and over about a new fact he had learned about a person he had interviewed. I would ask him to call or email before coming into the office, but he would come into the office unannounced on a deadline day. “Ron, I have to finish this article; I can't talk right now,” I'd say.
He would ignore my pleas, animated as a marionette, insisting on discussing his article-in-progress, maybe even launching into an oration about philosophy or religion. In fact, he is one of the few people with whom I could discuss literature, history, opera, etc., so even though I had asked him to leave a half-hour ago, we would wind up laughing hysterically.
During dinner at Chestnut Grill one night, Ron exploded with machine gun rapidity about a Wagner opera he had seen. He seemed to have the whole opera memorized, and he was so intent on recounting every act and scene, I am pretty sure he never stopped to eat anything.
One day in March of 2018, Ron came in with no warning and said, “You have to come with me. I want to introduce you to someone I just met.” He practically took my hand and led me to a stunning red convertible sports car, a Miata, speeding me to a fitness center in Bala Cynwyd, where he introduced me to a trainer, Mt. Airy resident Carlos Bradley, an impressive physical specimen who previously played linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. Bradley told us about a trip he and other former NFL players took to visit and train our troops in the Middle East. “Isn't he fascinating?” Ron said later. (Yes; he was.)
Another remarkable person Ron insisted that I meet was his best friend, Lewis duPont Smith, who lived in a big house near Chestnut Hill Hospital. A former football star for the University of Michigan, Lewis also had eclectic intellectual interests. He met with Ron and me for lunch at Chestnut Grill, which I expected to take an hour but which lasted four hours.
Lewis was an acolyte of Friedrich Schiller, an 18th century German poet, philosopher, physician, historian and playwright. He proceeded to regale us with Schiller's Enlightenment philosophy, which fascinated me. Petrou's favorite historical figure, by the way, was Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian spiritualist (1861-1925) and founder of the philosophical Waldorf School movement. (There is a Waldorf School in Germantown.) Tragically, Lewis died of cancer on Aug. 12, 2011, at age 54.
Petrou, a New York native, was a 1955 graduate of St. Paul's School on Long Island, and completed his undergraduate degree in English literature from Hamilton College in Clinton, NY in 1959. At that time, he took a high school teaching position, followed by social work for the Social Services department in New York City.
In 1966, he married his first wife Martha, and would go on to receive his Master's degree in Education, with a focus in Waldorf Education, in 1976 from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. Ron and Martha would go on to be part of the founding group of educators of the Waldorf School of Chicago. Petrou later taught for many years at the Kimberton Waldorf School in Chester County, where he put on many theater productions.
Petrou, who was very proud of his Greek heritage, is survived by one daughter, Catherine Scott, wife of John Jiminez of Pasadena, CA; his loving partner, Emily Bradley of Narberth, and her children, Lauren and Justine, and three grandchildren. Due to the current pandemic, funeral services were held privately. Donations may be made to the Kevin Cain Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 536, Havertown, PA 19083, or The American Cancer Foundation. Condolences may be expressed at phoenixvillefuneralhome.com
Len Lear can be reached at LenLear@chestnuthilllocal.com