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Ron Griffith

April 4, 1943 – March 20, 2009

Life, death and deeper waters

A Conversation with Ron February 17, 2009

Ronald James Griffith’s brilliant and inquiring intellect, commitment to family and community, outstanding professional leadership, and generous heart will be missed by the many people he touched in Northfield, MN and around the world.  Growing up in Cherokee, Iowa, Ron recalled his idyllic childhood with devoted parents, stimulation to learn and support for his interests. He was engaged in Cub Scouts, 4-H, Methodist Youth Fellowship, varsity athletics and numerous school-related clubs and activities. Ron worked continually from age 14 doing either store or farm work until he completed high school. Before graduating from high school in 1960, Ron married Linda Joy Sagness in 1959, welcoming their children Dana and Brian in 1960 and 1961.


In 1960, Ron entered Iowa State University (ISU) with the dream of designing nuclear reactors. His vocational objective evolved into biomedical engineering when he had the opportunity to produce a prototype medical device. Ron was awarded a patent for the invention. His time at ISU included programming the Cyclone digital computer, a copy of the first digital computer — the Illiac — that introduced Ron’s generation to computing. He graduated in 1963 with a B.S. degree, majoring in electrical engineering, an interest in all aspects of physics, mathematics and science and membership in numerous honor societies. At age 20, Ron accepted a job offer from Bell Telephone Laboratories, commonly thought of as the most prestigious private research and development organization in the world. His work motivated his graduate studies at Columbia University where he earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering in 1965 and 1969.


In the late 1960s, Ron became involved in the civil rights movement, local politics and the United Methodist Church in Morristown, N.J. He took on his first management position at Bell Labs and attended a course titled “The Theological Revolution of the 20th Century.” His commitment to social change through church renewal became the primary focus of his life. As Ron’s commitment to community and service deepened, the early marriage between Ron and Linda ended in 1972. He became a member of the residential staff of Ecumenical Institute (EI)/Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) residing in New York City. In 1974, Bell Labs transferred Ron to Naperville, Ill., where he also lived and worked at the global headquarters of the EI/ICA in Chicago. Even more importantly, it set up the circumstances in which Ron met Beret, who was working with the ICA. Beret and Ron were married April 28, 1976, creating a combined family of five children. Ron moved back to New Jersey with Bell Labs in 1978. Ten years later in 1988, Ron was invited to open a new Bell Labs location in Menlo Park, CA. California proved to be even more exciting than Ron and Beret hoped it would be. Bell Labs became the first of a series of demanding positions in Silicon Valley where Ron served as senior executive.


After diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer, Ron and Beret faced a crossroads. Ron was again being pursued by the start-up which would mean a return to the lifestyle of the past eleven years. A trip to Minneapolis in 2001 and a series of fortuitous events changed things forever. Over three days, they visited Northfield, signed a purchase agreement on a town home and returned to their California home. They soon set off across the country with two cats and never looked back.Northfield was a wonderful choice. Retiring to the Midwest allowed them to be near family, long-time friends and simplify their life. They also had easy access to their beloved cabin on Beaver Lake and culture offered by St. Olaf and Carleton colleges and the Twin Cities. Having the lakes, rivers, woods and prairies of Minnesota and Wisconsin made up for living 25 minutes from the ocean for many years. The intensity of thunderstorms, summer rains, humidity, snow and cold reminded Ron and Beret of their Midwestern childhoods, and they experienced them as gifts.


Ron was enthusiastically and passionately involved in many community projects. He was totally engaged in launching Just Food Northfield Community Co-op, working nearly full-time for four years with an outstanding team of volunteers, and finally as a board member. Just Food opened in December 2004. Other engaging pursuits included serving on the Planning Commission and the Northfield Energy Task Force’s Wind Turbine Working Group. It was the community feeling of Morristown and Northfield, not Bell Labs or Silicon Valley, which allowed him to most deeply experience the meaning and relationships that were most important in his life. Perhaps in the end it was “spirit-filled adventurer” and not “engineer” that best describes Ron’s essence. Community brought meaning to his life. Engineering is how he made his choices. Relationships are what he most cherished.Ron is survived by his wife, Beret Elizabeth (Brown, Hanson) Griffith of Northfield; daughter, Dana Erin Griffith of Clarkesville, Ga., and grandchildren, Evea Dinorah Kaldas and Andrew Samir Kaldas of Cumming, Ga.; son, Brian Andrew Griffith (Lani Kian) of San Diego, Calif.; daughter, Greta Elizabeth Hanson, (Rogelio Gaytan Silva), and grandchildren Gonzalo Samuel Pirela Hanson and Manola Francesca Silva Hanson of Minneapolis, Minn.; daughter, Chrystina Ellen Hanson of New York City; son, Benjamin Daniel Hanson (Cassandra Miles Hanson), and grandchildren, Camille Adia Hanson, Isabelle Danielle Hanson, Lillian Margaret Hanson and Gabrielle Rose Hanson of Richfield, Minn.; mother-in-law, Elizabeth Krause Brown of Eau Claire, Wis.; brother-in-law, William John Woodall of Cherokee, Iowa; nieces, Gayle Rae (Woodall) Gustafson (Steven Gustafson) and their family; and Gwen Leigh (Woodall) Voss (Hank Albert Voss) and their family. He was preceded in death by his parents, Albert R. Griffith and Evea Maxine (Savidge) Griffith, and sister JoAnn Marie (Griffith) Woodall.