Like most, I remember the first time I met Brother Ron Fender. I was dropping off something at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen not long after I arrived here in 2002.
He talked. I listened.
He was part Friar Tuck from "Robin Hood" and part door-to-door salesman. He embraced the robes of his calling and was quick to chat with every ear available.
"Dedicated," Community Kitchen employee Wayne Hammel said.
"Selflessness," Kitchen volunteer Cindy White said.
"Compassionate," said Mitchell Sands, a Kitchen regular who just heard of the news Monday around lunch.
These were the answers for a one-word association from those around the Community Kitchen on Monday for their beloved Brother Ron, who died Friday. He was 61.
"He did the best he could with all of us," Sands said, trying to fight back emotion. "He helped as many as he could as much as he could."
What a touching sentence, one that would make any of us proud to be part of our legacy. (Side note: Take the time today, if for no other reason than Brother Ron would suggest it if he could, to tell the folks who mean the world to you how much you love them. Far too often, the great testaments of joy and love and appreciation are held until it's a one-way conversation delivered to the ears of the angels.)
As for his time here, Brother Ron never shied from a challenge and never really sought out recognition. He was either too busy doing other things or too concerned with the next lost soul to worry about it.
Truth be told, though, he was a lost soul before finding his way and calling at St. Gregory's in New York. That led him to the light and his path led to the Community Kitchen, where as a case worker his ministry became the unwashed feet of our homeless.
"He found peace in New York," said White, who has been a long-time volunteer at the Community Kitchen, even outdating Fender's arrival in the early 2000s. "I can remember when he came and how he was a giant, teddy bear of a man and how much he cared.
"And how he embraced his ministry of feet because that's the transportation of the homeless."
He met his daily calling with verve and vigor. He was the nonjudgmental friend in a sea of judgmental faces that pass by our homeless every day.
His presence and passion will be missed on so many levels, not the least of which centers on the growing razor's edge that too many families teeter on today. The line between rooted and homeless is more narrow today than ever before, and with that slim margin of error, we need more and more Brother Rons.
"He was great," Kitchen visitor Douglas Fletcher said Monday, "and this place is not the same without him."
In truth, those ripples are true beyond his foot-based ministry on East 11th Street. We are growing more and more isolated. We are the product of amazing technology that connects us to the globe but allows us to be isolated from neighbors.
We virtually live in places we could never imagine, but frequently can't even imagine the place we actually live.
Brother Ron was a testament of living and giving and caring for those who were desperate for anything. More than that, he was an example for those watching his acts of kindness.
He frequently asked me if I had done something good today when we crossed paths.
"You bet," I'd tell him or, "Well, the day ain't over yet," I might say.
Said White: "He'd tell us 'I love you more than my luggage,' and that was high praise. I am blessed he crossed my path."
We all are, Cindy White.
And you know what? The day is still young, and without Brother Ron, the need for good deeds just got bigger.
Contact Jay Greeson at email@example.com. His "Right to the Point" column runs on A2 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.