From The Providence Journal - July 18, 2007
by Barbara Polichetti
CRANSTON — In the end, it was too sad for words. As speakers struggled in vain to keep their composure, tears flowed freely down the cheeks of friends and family members who had gathered in front of Cranston High School West to remember Ronald A. Gill Jr. — the young Coast Guardsman who died in March while on patrol with a homeland security unit based in Alaska.
While Ronald Gill Sr. and his wife, Rosemary, still don’t have the results of the ongoing military investigation that might tell them what caused the younger Gill, 26, to fall into Puget Sound from a high-speed patrol boat, they have not wasted any time making sure that their eldest son will always be remembered.
In the nearly four months since the death of the young man everyone called “Ronnie,” they have raised money for scholarships to be given in his name and for memorials to be placed on the grounds of his two alma maters, Cranston West and Johnson & Wales University.
“Ronnie’s never going to be forgotten, we’re all going to make sure of that,” Ronald Gill Sr. said Thursday sitting in the backyard of his Jordan Avenue home with his remaining son, Jonathan. Just as they had in the days after a late-night knock on the door notified them of Ronnie’s March 25 death off the coast of Seattle, father and son sat shoulder to shoulder on one side of a weathered picnic bench.
“The landscape of our lives has been forever changed,” Gill said. He described how recent months have been devoted to planning the memorial service and getting sponsors for the scholarship as well as a Ronald A. Gill Jr. Memorial Golf Tournament that is scheduled for Aug. 12 at Exeter Country Club, and which the family plans on making an annual event.
The proceeds from the tournament will benefit the two scholarship funds that the Gills have set up in their son’s name. From now on, Gill said, a $1,000 scholarship will be given to a graduate of Cranston West and a $5,000 scholarship will be given to another West graduate who goes onto Johnson & Wales where Ronnie earned his degree in culinary arts.
Gill said that Cranston West was a logical place for a memorial since Ronnie, a loving and lovable bear of a young man, had such a great experience at the school. Principal Steven C. Knowlton didn’t know Ronnie, but he didn’t hesitate when the family first approached him several weeks ago and broached the idea of honoring Ronnie.
The Gill family purchased the memorial, selecting a red marble monument shaped like a small podium that bears the inscription, “Forever in our hearts,” along with the Coast Guard seal and the dates of Ronnie Gill’s birth and death.
The evening sun glinted off the stone yesterday as guests gathered around it and dozens of Coast Guardsmen stood straight and tall in formation.
“Families like the Gills should never be broken like this,” Michael Traficante, athletic director for the Cranston schools said as he recalled coaching both Ronnie and Jonathan in community baseball and basketball leagues. Both boys were athletic and fun loving, he said, but what is most memorable is the closeness of the family and how they were unfailingly polite, thanks to their upbringing.
Other speakers who were there to remember Ronnie Gill or offer condolences to his family last night included Mayor Michael T. Napolitano and School Supt. M. Richard Scherza. Coast Guard Capt. Roy Nash stepped forward to give the military gold stars of honor to Gill family members. On the balcony of the school’s portico dozens of American flags were held aloft by members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group devoted to honoring fallen service men and women.
Traficante said that there is a “silver lining” for the future in that Jonathan will keep his brother’s spirit alive and that soon Ronnie’s wife, Ambur, will be making the Gill family larger with the birth of Ronnie’s child.
Ronald Gill Sr. said Monday that they are grateful that Ambur has moved from Alaska to Cranston so that their first grandchild — a girl who is due in September and who will be named Gracie Alan — can be with them and come to know all about her dad.
With friends and family, the elder Gill can talk proudly about the strapping son that switched careers from chef to Coast Guardsman because he liked the adventure and a chance to serve his country. Publicly it is still too difficult, he said, and that is why he asked son Jonathan to be last night’s keynote speaker.
Known to Ronnie as “Jon Jon,” Jonathan kneeled and kissed the monument before telling the audience how proud he’s always been, and always will be, of his older brother.
“You kept me out of trouble and had my back from day one,” he said, looking at his parents and Ambur seated in the front row.
“I had no fear in life because I knew I had you to look after me, and I still do.”
When he was done speaking, the audience sat in stillness until a thudding sound caused everyone to look westward. From above the trees a large Coast Guard helicopter swooped in to bank sharply and slowly circle the school. Then it disappeared into the clouds leaving behind the staccato sound of its rotor blades, echoing like a heartbeat.
For more information, please contact:
Ron Gill, Sr.
178 Jordan Avenue
Cranston, RI 02910
All proceeds benefit the PS3 Ronald A. Gill, Jr. Memorial Scholarship Foundation which grants scholarships to students
in Rhode Island.