Recently, two close friends of mine, Lee Ray and Ron Kimmel, passed away after spending most of their lives in Hollywood and Santa Monica, respectively. (Lee moved to Hollywood in 1937 and Ron moved to Santa Monica in 1976.) While saddened at their passing, I’ve been comforted by the affection and humor I shared with each.
I first “met” Lee via her E-mail that had in the subject line, “From a devoted fan.” I replied, “You’re the one!” She went on to explain she was a voracious reader of the NY Times and… my columns. (To my knowledge, the first time those two references have ever appeared in the same sentence.) Though Lee was raised in a tiny Texas town and, by circumstance, had to drop out of high school, her emails were always worldly and witty.
Lee, who lived in Brookdale Ocean House, would occasionally share intriguing events in her life. A teenage beauty, she fell in love with Monte Ray, a General Motors salesman from L.A. But Lee got pregnant so she and Monte married and he brought her to Hollywood. That might have been daunting to some but Lee was fearless. (Even after a divorce and with a daughter to raise.)
Lee passed her love of music to her daughter, Jean, who was in the early 1960’s folk singing duo, “Jim and Jean.” Completing the circle, Jean, spurred her 9-year-old half-brother, Brian’s interest in rock music which led to his forty-eight year rock career, including being an acclaimed member of Paul McCartney’s band. (Close as he was to Lee, Santa Monica’s Brian Ray has always felt like her nephew.)
As an occupation, Lee became a secretary for famed TV host Art Linkletter. The job lasted 54 years! Ultimately she was promoted to “show runner,” a powerful position in Hollywood, especially for a woman.
Fascinated with Lee’s stories, I kidded we should write a book. I had no idea she was in her mid-90’s and she had no idea I was a professional procrastinator. So we jokingly agreed we’d do the book in our next life.
Even approaching 100, Lee always dressed stylishly and exercised at least four times a week, inspired by Brookdale’s holistic fitness teacher and Lee’s dear friend, Cordula Ohman. For Lee’s centenarian birthday I wrote a column about her to which she exclaimed gratefully, “You made me famous!” (Actually, the honor was all mine.)
On June 8, however, with Brian and his niece Meredith by her side, Lee passed away peacefully at home. She did so on her own terms, with no needles or tubes, in a bed overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As she had such style in life, so did she in her passing.
Another close friend, Ron Kimmel, passed away in May at age 84 from Covid-19. He had lived at the Shores for forty-three years and was always highly thought of. His nickname was “Big Ron” stemming from his high school football days in Arlington, Pennsylvania but to his daughter Galinda, in Colorado, he was always the “Gentle Giant.”
Ron was so easy going people naturally opened up to him. He loved socializing in the Shores lobby with people who would sit and schmooze with him. He rarely laughed, but when I got the occasional belly laugh from him it was “golden” for me.
Ron served in the U.S. Air Force from 1956 to 1962 in “Test Wing Development,” a Control System Mechanic and a Radio Relay Repairman. After his honorable discharge, he moved to California and a job with Xerox as a copier technician. One of his regular accounts was the Rand Corporation where Daniel Elsberg was employed and would reluctantly become world famous. (And who’s currently 91.)
In fact, it was on a Xerox machine Ron regularly serviced that Elsberg photocopied the highly controversial “Pentagon Papers,” which some historians claim was the beginning to the end of the Vietnam War. (I joked with Ron that Nixon’s “plumbers” were looking for him and not because of a leaky faucet.)
Ron loved the beach, coffee with pals at Starbuck’s and taking yearly vacations to Hawaii. He was so laid back that even native Hawaiians thought he was a local, which pleased him to no end.
Unfortunately, in 2014, Ron was diagnosed with dementia. He had a wonderful caregiver at the Shores, LaLa Roncone-White, but he finally moved to Colorado to be with his daughter. Sadly, Ron contracted Covid-19 and passed away in May, leaving behind Galinda, her husband Robin, three grandchildren and a brother.
Though they never met, Lee and Ron had a terrific trait in common. They genuinely enjoyed and accepted people as they were. No wonder they were beloved by so many. And, in case you couldn’t tell, that definitely included me.
Lee Ray and Ron Kimmel, R.I.P.
To see Art Linkletter introduce them on TV, go to YouTube and type “Jim and Jean Blackfly.” If you type “Brian Ray” on YouTube, there are hours of his amazing rock videos. Jack’s definitely not on YouTube but he can be reached at: email@example.com