Ronnie Klee wrote the book on resilience. Nothing, it seemed, could darken his sunny outlook.
Not the many falls he endured during the last decade of his life, shrugging off his injuries as “nothing, I’m fine.” Not a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s for his beloved wife Rita. Not the death of his oldest son Marty, in 1987, not the death of his middle son Robert in 1995. Rita and he grieved for their children, but they continued living their lives and contributing to their communities and family.
Ronnie just kept smiling, seeding joy wherever he went, continued ushering at his synagogue and the Fox Theatre and volunteering at the Clark Howard Consumer Action Center. He coached at Briarcliff Community Sports and later at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. He began teaching how to negotiate eBay and to drive defensively to seniors for AARP. At innumerable baseball, football and basketball games of his many favored teams, he was engaged, interested in what was going on and in the people around him.
“He had so many tragedies in his life, and he still had this joy,” said Clark Howard, who met Klee when he began answering phones at Howard’s consumer action center. “I’m sure the sorrows he experienced hurt him, but nothing could kill his joy.”
A consummate Braves fan, 84-year-old Ronald Klee died on June 9, though, according to his son Stephen, he was killed the evening before by the excitement of another late-inning comeback win and series sweep of the New York Mets by his baseball team.
The son of Chicagoans Bert and Marjorie Klee, Ronnie grew up loving both the Chicago Bears and the Cubs. He met Rita their first day at the University of Miami and married her immediately after her graduation. When they moved to Atlanta, Rita’s hometown, shortly after their wedding, his sports allegiance widened to include not only the Chicago teams and Miami but also the Braves, the Falcons, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. Ronnie worked 35 years for A.C. Nielsen in the day and 20 years at night and on weekends for Sears.
“He was an auditor for Nielsen,” said his son Stephen. “He would visit stores and see what was selling and how much shelf space there was. He gathered data on sales and product movement. And he worked nights at Sears at Northlake Mall. And still found time to coach Little League.”
I.J. Rosenberg, owner of Score Atlanta, a sports marketing firm, was on one of Ronnie Klee’s baseball teams and was best friends with Robert. He remembered Coach Klee taking the team to the Cincinnati-Atlanta game in the 1970s, the days of the Big Red Machine. Pete Rose visited with the little boys and then signed baseballs for every single team member.
“I don’t know how he got Pete to do that,” said Rosenberg, who described Ronnie Klee as “nuts. He was crazy, a unique individual you couldn’t help but love.”
Stephen said his parents were frugal savers. Their habits allowed them to retire at 60 and travel the world together. Ronnie also began his amazing schedule of volunteering. In 2012, he began answering phones in the consumer action center.
Clark Howard remembered the clothes Klee delighted in wearing: orange socks and eye-popping colors, a Braves baseball uniform, a University of Georgia jacket, a Georgia Tech sweatshirt, a Falcons jersey. Klee wasn’t a jokester, Howard said, he was just someone who could make other people smile and get them to talk with him. “When things get crazy for me, I think about Ronnie and realize life isn’t as serious as I’m making it out to be.”
Ronnie Klee “had a zest and a love for life,” said Lori Silverman, who runs the Clark Howard Consumer Action Center. Klee took her out for her birthday, every year, she said. “He was a true mensch.”
In addition to his wife and son, Ronnie Klee is survived by his daughter-in-law Pam, his three grandchildren; his brother Larry Klee, his wife Judie; his sister-in-law Gloria Benamy; and other family members.