Maybe it was one last call from Ron Maddox.
Here’s how it came down: As he started his eulogy of the magnificent Maddox, St. Paul City Council member Dave Thune advised men to loosen their ties and for everyone to turn ON their cell phones.
“This isn’t the Ordway,” Thune explained to those who had come to the Maddox memorial service at the pavilion on St. Paul’s Harriet Island.
Everybody appreciated the comment. Maddox wasn’t really an Ordway sort of guy and he always wanted all people to be available by cell.
Thune then moved into the heart of his talk, which was sweet and funny and loving.
He was just getting warmed up when a cell phone went off.
Whomever was receiving the call answered with one word: “Ron?”
Everybody in the place laughed and gulped a little because it’s still hard to imagine that the 72-year-old Maddox is actually gone from St. Paul. No more late night, early morning, mid-afternoon calls from Maddox? No more schemes and dreams? No more confrontations? No more sales pitches? Maddox, who cheated death so many times before, gone?
But apparently there was no answer.
St. Paul, friends and family really will all have to figure out how to move along without this character who represented the last of a colorful breed.
Casual Christian, passionate DFLer
St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said Maddox’s greatest invention, the Taste of Minnesota, was a representation of who his friend was.
In times of tension or sadness, Harrington said, the Taste of Minnesota was “music, rides and fireworks.”
Harrington, who described himself as a Buddhist Republican, became friends with Maddox, a casual Christian but passionate DFLer, during a Taste festival years ago when he was a young cop trying to “clean up” a fight near the festival back in the days when it was held on the state Capitol grounds.
“I look over our shoulder and there was Ron,” recalled Harrington. “He had his baseball bat in hand. He was our backup. I remember thinking, ‘If he gets involved, who’s gonna get hit, me or the bad guys?”’
There were a lot of stories about Maddox’s brawls at the service, including one that had occurred just a year ago.
“I arrived late for a lunch with Ron,” said Thune. “I saw that his right hand was covered with a linen napkin that was covered with blood.”
Thune asked his friend what had happened.
Maddox explained that he’d been outside the restaurant and had asked a man to stop drinking on the street.
The man didn’t listen.
Maddox, 71 years old at the time, grabbed the man’s bottle and smashed it. The man responded by kicking Maddox’s cane away from him. Maddox countered with a right, smashing his fist either against some broken glass or the man’s head. The man, Maddox said, fled.
Maddox often was conflict. He was quick to stand up for what he thought was right. In his days as the owner of the Blue Chip saloon, he’d fight pimps. Later, at a more family values time of life, he was ready to do battle with people who might offend children.
Example: Tom Arnold was doing a comedy routine at the Taste of Minnesota.
“Arnold kept using the ‘F’ word,” Thune said. “Maddox heard it and literally pulled the plug on him. Arnold yells, ‘No one does that to me.’ Maddox says, ‘I just did, want to go out back and settle it?”’
Such a character. Such a dreamer. Such a fighter.
The correct answers
He had serious car crashes, brain tumors, heart attacks. And always he made it until last week, when he was brought down by a series of strokes.
“I called him ‘the walking medical miracle,”’ said Harrington. “… He said he chose his doctors by asking them two questions. He wanted to see their hands and he wanted to know what they drank.”
“Steady hands and Chivas Regal were the correct answers,” said Harrington.
There was a serious side to the former council member. He spent years making amends to the family he had with his first wife, knowing that he’d been far more involved with his bar and his politics than his children when they were young. His second marriage was a keeper, a powerful love story, his children said.
There were other serious issues in his life, too. Often forgotten, said Thune, was the fact that Maddox, the macho bull with the baseball bat, was a City Council leader in writing St. Paul’s first gay-rights legislation that later was overturned only to be resurrected again.
And during a period when he ran a small resort on Lake Mille Lacs, he vociferously sided with Native Americans in their battle for fishing rights on the big lake. He lost a lot of friends in that dispute, but Tuesday, there was a large delegation of Native Americans on hand to say farewell to their friend.
“A bridge who connected rich, poor, black, white and Native,” said Harrington, a tear in his eye.
And a bridge to another era, too, now gone.
But for just a moment, when that cell phone rang during the service and the man answered, “Ron?” there was a hint of expectation amid the laughter of the mourners.