The death of Ron Dorfman

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Ron Dorfman
  • Ken Ilio
  • Ron Dorfman
Ron Dorfman died Monday in his home on North Sheridan Road. His body was found on the bathroom floor by his friend Vicki Quade, who had come to take him to a doctor's appointment. Ron was days away from a risky operation on his failing heart, and it was because his health was so precarious that he recently made history in Illinois. Last December 13, thanks to judicial dispensation, he and his partner, Ken Ilio, got married. The new law allowing gay marriage in Illinois doesn't go into effect until this June, but Ron and Ken petitioned for and were given permission to marry early because of the high possibility that by June Ron would no longer be alive. They were the first male couple to marry legally in Illinois.

Before the wedding, Quade took him on the errands he felt he needed to run. "He was like every groom you could imagine," she says. "He wanted a haircut. He got a close shave. He wanted to go to the store and pick out some nonalcoholic sparkling cider. He picked up some fruit there. He was so so happy about getting married! it was so lovely!"

Ron was an enormously important person in my life, not only inspiring me as a journalist when he cofounded the Chicago Journalism Review in 1968 but inviting me to take it over as editor a few years later. But when we talked in December, just after he married, what I most wanted to discuss was his career as a gay journalist during the volatile half century that stretched from the rowdy, homophobic newspaper era of the mid-60s in Chicago—a time of denial, he told me, when "I thought I was reformable. And I had occasional liaisons with various women"—through the age of AIDS, which he survived, to a time when he actually could find himself inviting journalists who'd been through the wars with him to celebrate his marriage to another man.

Ron Dorfman will be cremated Tuesday and a memorial service not yet organized will be held at the former Riccardo's. There is not much I can add here to what I wrote in December, and to some ruminations I put into words in January that his wedding reception inspired. But let me turn to e-mail I received Monday night and then digress.

Sydney Weisman, a journalism friend I first knew in college and then met again in Chicago, wrote from the coast, where she lives now. "I am heartbroken that he's gone . . . but I know he was also suffering, so I don't quite know how to feel other than deeply, deeply sad . . . I never understood half of what Ron was talking about most of the time, I would just nod knowingly, but I felt he was . . . always one step ahead. He just seemed to assume we could and would keep up . . .

"I am somewhat comforted that he and Ken were able to marry. At least he got that moment."

That was no small moment, I replied, and, comforted some by what Vicki Quade had told me, said I believed Ron Dorfman died happy. I added, "And he died after seeing the world change and playing a role in the changing. The news out of our alma mater is a measure of how great that change is."

Sydney and I had gone to the University of Missouri, where on Sunday the football team's All-American defensive end, Michael Sam, announced he's gay. His team already knew, and he figured most of the NFL teams who might draft him also knew, but he wanted the world to know.

Sam played his ball in Mizzou's Faurot Field, whose north end is a rise dominated by a huge block M made of white rocks. The M is visible in outline under the snow, and to the left of it, somebody on Monday gouged a giant S and a giant A in the snow.

SAM. Social media quickly spread pictures of this tribute everywhere. One tweet was from Sam's coach, Gary Pinkel.

Ron Dorfman wasn't one for sappy sentiments, but I think he'd agree he has left the world a better place than he found it.

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