By KJ Philp, November 2016 Issue. Meet the rest of the Class of 2016 here.
Ron Passarelli was a humble man. He was not the sort of person who sought to be recognized for his work, other than in the normal credit for doing something. I consider him a role model in terms of how giving he was, his love of showing hospitality to others, and his ability to use humor to get through challenging situations. All of those things made him a classy human being, who didn’t know a stranger and who would do what he could to make anyone who started out as a stranger into a friend.
– Liz Massey
In July 2006, Ron presented Eric Moore with a ring and, because he failed to do so, Eric popped the question. They were married in the eyes of their family, friends, and the universe April 7, 2007. Then they renewed their vows for the state of Arizona April 7, 2015. They were a couple for 10 years and would have celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary this coming spring.
Echo: Ron was originally from Trinidad, Colo. What year did he move to Phoenix? Was there a defining moment when he knew that this was HIS home/community?
Moore: Ron moved to Phoenix in 1989 when he accepted the position of director of design and construction with the Unispec Development Corporation … He started working in the LGBTQ community starting with the Arizona Committee for Progress which was the precursor organization to the Arizona Human Rights Fund (now Equality Arizona) … Ron was “at home” wherever he lived at the time. He took an interest in local government and politics. He loved historic preservation and was passionate about equal treatment under law for everybody. In reality, Ron took two seemingly opposite views of community. On the one hand, was the large scale: cities, states, nations. All of us are part of a greater whole. At the same time, community is local: city, neighborhood, block. For Ron, community is about good governance, transparency, and inclusiveness in every sense of the word.
Echo: One thing Ron is most-remembered for is his work to preserve the David and Gladys Wright House. What did this landmark mean to him and what does this effort say about Ron’s passion for architecture and dedication to community?
Moore: Ron was a huge proponent of the idea and practice of adaptive re-use, especially concerning historic properties. The idea is that, once a building (like a warehouse) outlives its purpose, the building can be adapted for a different use (like event space or loft apartments).
The David and Gladys Wright House is the final residential masterpiece designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Like most architects, Ron was a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright.
When it was announced that the house was threatened with destruction, Ron was aghast. When the property was purchased with a mind to preserving and restoring the house, Ron was elated. He became a leading proponent of and advisor to the Wright House because he recognized the significance of the structure and fully supported its proposed adaptation into event space and a neighborhood landmark. After all, it is in this structure that we see the prototype for the Guggenheim Museum. Ron was thrilled that the house would be managed by a non-profit foundation as an asset for the Arcadia Neighborhood and the City of Phoenix.
Ron’s dedication to the vision of the David and Gladys Wright House was and is consistent with his view of community – as an asset to be enjoyed by all for the benefit of all.
Echo: Readers may not know that the future Phoenix AIDS Memorial was founded and designed by Ron. What did this project mean to him?
Moore: Like many of us, Ron lost many friends to this modern plague. Those losses included his little brother Jimmy, who died of AIDS in 1994. As a 30-year survivor of AIDS, Ron lived through those early dark days when thousands of gay men all over the United States were abandoned by their communities, their families and their nation.
When Ron learned that an AIDS Memorial was proposed as part of the master plan for the redevelopment of the Margaret T. Hance Park in central Phoenix, he became the driving force for the creation of the memorial. Ron volunteered his architectural skills and talents in order to design a Phoenix AIDS Memorial to serve as a reminder of the past and as a beacon of hope for the future.
This project, when it is built (and it will be built), will be Ron’s final gift to the people of Phoenix.
Echo: What was it about Ron that made him so loved by this community?
Moore: Ron was deeply concerned about the injustice we continue to experience around us every day. Whether thinking about the LGBTQ community or people living with HIV or the plight of migrant farmworkers, Ron considered it his civic responsibility to be concerned about others … He was always ready to offer advice and counsel or the hours needed to achieve to help others achieve their goals.
One recent example, of hundreds that could be cited, is his unsung role regarding the preservation of the legacy of the 307 bar in downtown Phoenix. For decades, the 307 served as a safe haven for our community. When the building was purchased and slated for destruction to make way for mixed use space, there was concern that the history would be lost.
Ron realized that the building that housed 307 was going to be demolished. There was no practical way to save it or the mural painted by renowned Arizona artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia. Working with the developer and other members of the community, Ron brokered a compromise that included a plaque at the new building commemorating the history of the 307, the creation of a life-size high-resolution photograph of the DeGrazia mural, and a cash donation to the Pride Center.
This is what makes Ron a beloved member of the community. Working with others to achieve a goal that satisfies everybody.
Echo: What would Ron have considered his greatest feat?
Moore: I think his greatest feat pre-dates his time in Phoenix. Ron was elected to the City Council in his hometown of Trinidad, Colorado, in 1975. He served one term from 1976 through 1980.
About the time he took office, the Denver Post published an expose about corruption in Trinidad city government. Due to his dedication as a public servant and his belief in open and transparent government, Ron supported a grand jury investigation of the allegations.
As a result of this support, Ron was subjected to a recall petition and election. He was blamed for the bad press, despite the fact that he was not in office at the time the allegations were made. The recall was rejected by a three-to-one margin and Ron served out the rest of his term fighting for transparency and good governance.
I consider this his greatest feat because it encapsulates everything Ron favored and worked for: fairness, good governance, transparency, equal justice under the law, open debate and discussion, and public service.
Echo: What is Ron’s family like? Would you care to share a little bit about what his relationship was like with some or all members?
Moore: Ron was the oldest of four children born to his parents Mike and Rose Passarelli. Throughout his life, the family was a close-knit unit that loved and respected all members.
Ron’s father fought in World War II in the Pacific theater. His mother work, briefly, for a ship builder in California before she returned to Trinidad where she worked at the Prisoner of War Camp erected just outside of town. This spirit of public service was inherited from Ron’s grandparents and passed to him. All the photographs and stories from Ron’s childhood display an intelligent, curious, and idyllic period. Yes, I know this sounds kind of unbelievable and saccerine. But in latter years, after I had joined the family, these qualities were still evident.
Echo: Who were some of Ron’s role models/inspirations and why?
Moore: Ron had many role models: His grandpa Andy was a member of and organizer for the International Workers of the World (the IWW) which fought for the human rights of miners in the coal fields around Trinidad. He also admired Mother Jones and Cesar Chavez in their work to make life better for working people.
He was an admirer of Franklin Roosevelt because of the work he did to pull the United States of out depression and preserve our way of life against totalitarian ideologies. In his wallet, Ron carried the following quotation from FDR: “The test of our Progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
But the biggest role models in Ron’s life were John and Robert Kennedy. John Kennedy because president when Ron was in junior high. The rhetoric Kennedy spoke resonated with Ron in a way that inspired him to be a better person and to work to be a better nation.
Ron’s first work for a major political campaign came in 1968 when he was an organizer for Notre Dame Students for Kennedy. As happens from time to time, a candidate comes along that inspires young people to get involved in something larger than themselves. For Ron, that candidate was Robert Kennedy. Kennedy’s endorsement of the rights of the poor and down-trodden fit perfectly with Ron’s world view that, collectively, we could be a better people and a better nation.
Echo: Did Ron consider himself a role model? Do you consider him a role model?
Moore: I would say that Ron would not have considered himself a role model. I think that he would have said that he was just doing what he thought needed to be done to make the world a better place.
Echo: Do you consider him a role model?
Moore: Absolutely. I say that for the same reason Ron would have said he was not a role model. He did what he thought needed to be done to make the world a better place. There are far too many people who see problems in the world and choose to do nothing. But not Ron. If he saw a problem, he wanted that problem fixed and would do what he needed to realize a solution.
Echo: How would you summarize Ron’s character? And personality?
Moore: Ron never met a stranger. He could, and often did, strike up conversations with people he just met. When you were in conversation with him, there was nobody else in the world as important as you were in that moment.
Ron was an intelligent, vivacious, gregarious and compassionate man. He laughed easily at himself and at a good joke. He was deeply concerned about some of the absurdities around us these days (think Donald Trump or the tortured logic of Antonin Scalia). But despite discouragements, he was optimistic that right and justice will prevail.
Echo: What is Ron’s legacy?
Moore: Ron’s legacy is one of tenacity and justice. When he saw so many other gay men dying from AIDS, he did not walk away. He joined boards and raised funds and worked to make a difference. And with the memorial, he will provide future generations with a place to learn and remember.