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Ronald Leonard Singer

Died: March 24, 2011

Ron Singer came at you like a force of nature. Son of Bruno Singer and Norma Leonard O’Connor, Ron came to Yale via Roslyn High School in New York. Ron was obviously ambitious and competitive, announcing as early as freshman year that he intended to be president and owner of his own company by age thirty. Although his career would take a slightly different turn, it had that quality. An electrical engineering major, Ron was consistently a ranking scholar, and was elected to both Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi, which he served as president. He was a member of Pierson, where he played squash and football, and he also played varsity squash, showing a skill in racquet sports that would continue throughout his life and include tennis. He was also a member of Skull and Bones. While many found Ron’s competitiveness edgy, others of us felt ourselves invited to work and play at similar levels, or at least as close as we could get.

Following Yale, Ron received a Clare fellowship to study economics at Cambridge University, from which he received an M.A. in 1968. During that period he met and married Anne Hallgren from Sweden; their son Erik was born in 1973 and now works as a voice and dialects coach in New York. One grandson, Xander Campbell-Singer, was born in 2005, a granddaughter, Calliope Campbell-Singer in 2008.

After Cambridge, Ron combined his interests in technology and economics in what would become a distinguished career in the fine papers business. He rose rapidly through the executive ranks at companies such as James River Corporation and Georgia Pacific (through the usual stories of mergers and acquisitions), and moved to Paris as CEO of JA/MOT, a joint venture between James River and the Italian company Montedison. Ultimately, he became CEO of French multi-national Lecta, a fine papers company with a distinguished environmental record. While in Paris (his previous marriage having ended in divorce) Ron met and eventually (2010) married advertising executive Violaine Sanson-Tricard.

Within a few years of leaving Yale, Ron began his long battle with lung cancer and its complications. He approached that fight with the competitive energy for which he was notorious, but finally succumbed on March 24, 2011. Michael Dalby delivered a eulogy at the memorial service in Paris. His son Erik said on that occasion: “His optimism may have been the most extraordinary thing about this extraordinary man. It may also have been the most American thing about him, and perhaps the thing that’s best about Americans. It was also the thing that allowed him to beat cancer 37 years ago, allowing me to have 37 more years with my dad. And it gave him a kind of eternal youth. It made him a sort of golden boy.” We all miss Ron’s presence, demanding we be as good as can be at whatever we are doing.

Michael Dalby remembers:

Ronald Leonard Singer

Père Lachaise, Paris, March 30, 2011

I met Ron 51 years ago. At Yale in the 1960s, we lived amid uncertainty very different from the satisfied attitudes of the previous decade. Clarity of critical thinking was not uppermost. But that fall, I had heard Ron put forward his points of view — on the subject of self-reliance, as I recall. In his distinctive voice, he delivered his opinions unvarnished, as Chip Stanberry remarks. I vividly remember his tone: forceful, unambiguous and dripping with assertions that at least deserved to be true.

I had never met anyone like him. He was not of the crowd. For Ron, ideas were not mere rhetoric. Reason was his mode of being; he lived in a world of superlatives.

Ron’s self-assurance came from his family. Life at the Singers blended extreme sports, intellectual rigor and incessant competition — especially with his brothers, whom he dearly loved. While many of us were running at the speed of light away from our family backgrounds, this was striking. I learned later that his affirmations of family fueled his deep and genuine optimism. He imbued these attitudes into his own family, Anne Hallgren Singer and his son Erik. He was volubly proud of both. As George Brown says, the enthusiasm and brilliance Ron carried through his life was wonderful to behold.

Ron’s competitiveness was fundamental. A half-dozen years out of Yale Ron’s serious health problems arose, but he delighted in denying their effects even while barely outliving them. Mac Bradford tells of a tennis match, hard-fought with long points. Mac led slightly at the changeover. He and Ron sat drinking water, silently planning strategy. Then Ron said, “You know I’d be winning if I had both lungs.”

A versatile businessman, Ron was globally aware and constantly learning from experience. He applied his bias for action to the difficult paper business, in the U.S. and abroad. His phenomenal progress as a manager led to his eventual emergence into “Monsieur Sainzher,” our man in Paris. Running a huge company, Lecta, across Europe would have been extraordinary for anyone, let alone an American. He was proudest of his environmental record, unheard of in that industry, which he championed against stiff objections.

In Paris he met a marketing executive who stopped him still. Violaine speaks of meeting “le” Ron, using the definite article to capture his uniqueness. Together they created a home with Franco-American stylishness. These two formidable people, deeply kind, acted as surrogate uncle and auntie to many, including our children Marie and Owen.

With Owen I saw Ron in New York in 2011 after his final operation. He spoke of its details, of his son’s devotion, and how to beat the odds. Weeks later Owen and his wife Meena recognized a solitary figure walking hard late in the evening — thus, as ever, Ron at his exercise.

Vio’s phrase was correct. Ron was the real article.

May his soul rest and his friends be grateful he passed our way.