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Monday, February 17, 2020
Ron Druett, maritime artist, 1934-2020
Born in Kingston-on-Thames on December 30, 1934, Ron was just old enough when World War II commenced to remember his father marching off to India and Burma -- and the London Blitz. His mother refused to leave home, and Ron and his younger brother, David, refused to leave her. And so he had memories to share -- of learning to read in bomb shelters, collecting shrapnel, running home to make sure the house was still there after a daylight raid. Nerve-wracking at the time, it made many stories to enthrall children later on.
Ron excelled at Surbiton County Secondary School, coming top of the class with an early gift for art. The headmaster and art teacher were desperate for him to go to art school, but no, his father thought it was no way to make a living. And so Ron was apprenticed at the South Eastern Electricity Board. His two years of National Service in the Royal Air Force added to this experience, as Ron serviced aircraft, including Vampires.
And still he painted. Perhaps it was his seaman-brother's descriptions of the landscapes and seascapes of New Zealand that inspired him to migrate there, in 1962. There, he worked in power stations, in the midst of spectacular scenery. It was inevitable, perhaps, that when he returned to England a couple of years later, it was just to say goodbye to his folks, as he had decided to make New Zealand his home. And it was at sea, on a ship, very appropriately, that I met him, and just a few weeks after getting back home, we were married.
And we lived in the Bay of Plenty -- in the midst of spectacular scenery -- and still he painted. Two sons were born, and I vividly remember one of the toddlers "having a go" at an unfinished work, adding a few large sprawls of color. Moving to Rotorua and then Hamilton, Ron continued his career in New Zealand electricity, but at the same time was exhibiting in the prestigious Kelliher Art Awards.
And then I started writing books -- books that needed illustration. One was Petticoat Whalers, and I remember the publisher's delight when Ron produced not just the spectacular cover, but inside art as well.
This book had been the outcome of a Fulbright-funded research trip to the great maritime museums of the United States. Inspired and excited by the experience and the satisfaction of seeing his art in print, Ron retired from the electricity business, and devoted himself to art, full-time. This was soon rewarded by a Residency at the William Steeple Davis house and studio, in Orient, Long Island, New York. In the end, we spent nearly three years there. Ron painted and exhibited, while I wrote, dealt with publishers, and was employed by the Three Village Historical Society and the Long Island Whaling Museum as a consultant. We traveled widely, and gave talks and attended exhibitions. Ron was accepted as an Artist Member of the American Society of Maritime Artists, a significant honor. And again, he was asked by publishers to illustrate my books.
Returning to New Zealand in 1996, we soon made the decision to move to Wellington, because of the research facilities there. It was a time for Ron to demonstrate his talent for working with wood -- not only did he create furniture, but he built steps, a deck, and a veranda. Painting came first, however, his work bought by collectors all over the world. And there were many trips back to the United States, and exhibitions there to attend -- at the Mystic Maritime Museum gallery, in particular. Martha's Vineyard, where I consulted at the historical society, and we stayed with dear friends, was a favorite.
In 2009 something unexpected happened. We were asked by P&O Australia to be host lecturers. It was the start of an amazing four years of sailing the South Pacific and South East Asia, talking to hosts of lovely people, sharing our knowledge, and staging power point shows of Ron's work. When it came to an end, we still kept cruising -- Cunard, Paul Gauguin. We were addicted.
Then, in 2014, there was a dreadful interruption. Ron developed a rare condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. An aberration of the nervous system triggered by an ordinary virus, it leads to shocking weakness. But ten days of intensive care in Wellington Public Hospital followed by three weeks of physiotherapy did the trick, and we were able to take up our travels again, including the International Book Fair at Taipei, a city and occasion we both adored.
Our last cruise was a big one, a World Cruise on the Sea Princess. The ship, crew, and itinerary were all wonderful -- but towards the end of it, Ron developed a weakness again. It started with his right hand -- his painting hand, the one part of his body most precious to him -- which clenched into a paralyzed fist. At home, there were many tests as the weakness became increasingly worse. Then the devastating diagnosis of Motor Neuron Disease -- what the Americans call ALS -- was made. It proceeded unusually quickly, and on 17 February 2020, not quite four months from the diagnosis, Ron succumbed to that dreadful condition.
Brave to the end, he will always be remembered as a devoted husband, a fond and conscientious father and grandfather, and a man with many friends, loved for his unfailing courtesy, and his whimsical sense of humor.