Ron Grapevine dies, ran 37 Peachtree Road Races in his 72 year

Credit: Courtesy of the family

For Ron Grapevine, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race was more than just a sweaty romp from Buckhead to Piedmont Park.

Up well before dawn each July 4, Grapevine and his posse of friends and running partners would head to the finish line, helping volunteers set up. Then they would leave behind Grapevine’s truck laden with craft beer and head for the starting gun.

After getting their finishers’ T-shirts, they’d reconnoiter back to the pickup, where Ron would hand out drinks to thirsty runners — all comers welcome. So it went for 37 consecutive years.

He was “Peachtree Ron” — as much of an event icon as the priest who annually blesses the 60,000 participants from a street corner on the route.

Grapevine, 72, died June 13 from complications of early-onset Alzheimer’s. He is survived by his wife Rosemary Magee, children Sean and Rebecca, daughter-in-law Harvest Grapevine, and his brother Doug.

Grapevine’s richly textured life was bounded by the touchpoints of family and friends, a love of animals, burning up the miles with running buddies, an appreciation of great beer and the ability to fix almost anything for anybody who asked, or some who didn’t.

Grapevine would jump in to help a stranger load groceries into their car or spread pine straw, even when the person didn’t particularly want the help. Or he’d scramble to load the dishwasher during a formal dinner at the home of his wife’s fellow Emory University administrators.

“He was always on call,” said Magee. Whether it was fixing a light switch, an appliance, a balky computer or tattered roof or helping with a neighbor kid’s science project, he was willing.

“He had this special grace about him,” his son Sean said. People didn’t get annoyed or it didn’t seem creepy when he offered help, he said.

“I tell you this man worked until his last breath,” said longtime caregiver Princess Thomas. “He never stopped. Never stopped. I’ve never seen anything like it, to be honest.”

And she added wistfully, “We loved and took care of each other.”

Two early events guided his later life, said Sean. One was a hitch in the Air Force working on military aircraft. The other was meeting and marrying Magee.

Credit: Courtesy of the family

The military gave Grapevine a structure and taught the value of hard work, while his spouse encouraged him to embrace higher education, said the younger Grapevine.

Earning a Master’s in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech, he advanced the 1980s personal computer revolution working for Scientific Atlanta and other companies before forming a partnership starting a computer software and hardware business.

When not working, he took life in the here-and-now and in great, spirited gulps. And if it needed doing, it got done — no hesitation or handwringing

He taught his daughter Rebecca to ride a bike in a single day.

“He was a man of action, and I think my brother and I took it for granted because he made it seem normal. If there was a way to help people, he’d do it,” she said.

He consoled three-decade track mate Bob Fox the day Fox got laid off from his executive post at a utility company.

Even if he wasn’t around, neighbors were welcome to borrow his truck — he left the keys in it — to pickup drywall or run any other errand and grab a beer upon their return “courtesy of Ron’s garage fridge,” Magee said.

His never-give-up nature could run to extremes

Magee recalled, “He’d start on a project and even if we were having guests over at 6 p.m., he’d still be in the middle of pressure washing the deck in his running shorts as people were arriving.”

Friend and running partner, Edna “Eddy” Bay, said his penchant for jokes and one-liners were dubbed “The sayings of Chairman Ron,” which Magee collected into a journal.

One example is fitting for the upcoming race and for those he left behind in general. He was known for clapping a fellow racer on the back and saying, “Come on, it’s only uphill till you get the top.”

There will be an informal Celebration of Ron’s life in early July.