Two months ago, when he found out that he was dying, Ron Fimrite set out to reread the collected works of Evelyn Waugh, his favorite author. Like his hero, Ron was a master storyteller who moved easily between falling-down-funny "yarns," as he called them, and heartbreaking profiles of people who seemed to have everything but frequently did not. Last Friday, having spent 34 years as a staff writer and contributor who wrote hundreds of SI stories that did have everything, Ron Fimrite died of pancreatic cancer. He was 79.
There was a musicality about Ron's writing, but the beat was distinctly of the 1940s. "He wrote, always on a Royal upright typewriter, with tempo and melody," says former SI reporter Stephanie Salter. "He would never call what we do an art, but it is surely a craft, and Ron was an old-world craftsman." In the past year alone he published two books: the definitive history of football at Cal, his alma mater, and a sprawling exorcism of more than a century at the Olympic Club in his beloved San Francisco. From that city he produced such astonishments as a 7,500-word re-creation of the riotous final play in the 1982 Cal-Stanford football game—a story that at no point mentions the final score.
Often in Ron's stories there was an undercurrent of melancholy about the passage of time. In a 1976 SI profile of Cal golden boy Jackie Jensen, he wrote, "The 40-year-old looks back on himself at 20 and sees a distant relation, a person whose ambitions, affections, triumphs and fears seem slightly absurd." When he left the SI staff, Ron was presented a photo of Andre Laguerre, the managing editor who hired him; its frame bore this inscription from Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche: BORN WITH THE GIFT OF LAUGHTER, AND A SENSE THAT THE WORLD WAS MAD. Ron left the frame behind, but he took far too much of the laughter.