Ronald David Deprez

DEER ISLE – Ronald David Deprez left his body behind on April 21, 2020, at his home in Deer Isle, surrounded by family. He was determined to die like he lived — on his own terms — and was able to do so under Maine’s Death with Dignity law. It was an unfathomably brave act after a progressive neurodegenerative condition robbed him of his independence and freedom. “I didn’t believe in letting the body suffer on,” he said. He was 75. Ron was born, with his trademark dimples and twinkling eyes, to Katherine (née Nezol) and Ralph Philip Deprez on June 10, 1944, in Lewiston. He grew up in Portland’s Payson Park neighborhood and drew strength from his mother, a seamstress who worked odd jobs to raise her four children and whom he described as tough, practical, blunt and kind. He graduated from Cheverus High School in 1962, followed by a post-graduate year at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass. Among innumerable accomplishments, his football career at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in government, ranked among his proudest. He was an all-star fullback who was named co-captain and MVP his senior year. News reporters called him a “battering ram” who ran “like a wild bull” and averaged more than 100 yards rushing and 25 carries per game. A neck injury suffered around that time disqualified him from the 1969 military draft. He liked to say he served his country not by joining the military but by protesting its actions, most notably the Vietnam War, and he embodied his radical progressive politics with a full head of wild, curly brown hair and handlebar mustache. He went on to earn a master’s degree and doctorate in political science from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and a Master of Public Health degree in epidemiology from the Harvard School of Public Health. Ron devoted his career to public health. He was thoughtful and serious about the challenges facing the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable places, particularly in rural areas, and unafraid of controversy. He spent his early years as a policy analyst for the Maine Legislature. In 1988, he ventured out on his own to found and serve as president of the Public Health Resource Group, a multidisciplinary health care consulting organization in Portland, where he developed the first comprehensive community health needs assessment process in the U.S. He also founded and served as executive director of the Public Health Research Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to helping communities overcome adverse health conditions. He served as an associate research professor at the University of New England in Portland and an adviser to the World Health Organization in Switzerland, and collaborated on projects in Mali, Saudi Arabia, the Gambia, Egypt, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Ghana, Ethiopia and China. He lectured throughout the U.S. and overseas on chronic disease practice improvements, surveillance systems and population health assessments, and published widely. Living the vast majority of his life in his native state, Ron embodied the indefatigable work ethic and fierce independence of a true Mainer. He could wire a house, tile a floor, bag a duck, skin a deer, dig clams, helm a boat and ride a motorcycle. He could recite William Wordsworth from memory and extemporize about Rousseau, Hegel, Marx and Krishnamurti. He found solace in meditation and joy in portrait photography and traveling, especially throughout Africa, making lifelong friends along the way. He was an expert cook — whipping up homemade pasta and blueberry pancakes the way most people pop a dish into the microwave — and loved to tell you how much a restaurant would have charged for the meal he’d just served. He was a disciplined athlete who took care of his body and never stopped pushing it as far as it could go: skiing, climbing mountains, biking, swimming, lifting weights and practicing yoga well into his 70s. He ran 18 marathons (including Boston four times) as a member of the Maine Track Club and its unruly subchapter, the Rat Pack. Friends saw him as a model of how to live life to the fullest, possessing genuine interests in people, material things, ideas and the spiritual, as well as an ability to laugh at himself for his own quirks.Growing up poor made Ron resourceful and cheap, qualities that never wavered even after he was poor no longer. He never saw an expiration date on food he didn’t ignore and loved a sale and shopping at Marden’s. He was a tough, generous and steadfast father to Réal and Esmé, instilling in them a love of skiing and the outdoors and a conviction that something’s not worth doing unless it’s done right. Ron recently wintered in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., to be closer to them, where he spent many an evening shamelessly cheating at the board game, Sorry, and regaling them with spirited renditions of “Bert and I” stories. (They’re the origin of his nickname for his family — the Moose Family.)Ron remained a force, ornery and obstinate, well-dressed and clean-shaven, until the end. He spent his final days with his children at the home he built in his beloved Deer Isle, eating clams, drinking Irish whiskey, reading poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Dylan Thomas and listening to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. They all agreed that if ever there were a good way to go, he’d found it. Ron will be remembered as a crazy gem of a human by all who loved him, including his son, Réal Deprez, and daughter-in-law, Kathleen Vu Deprez, of Los Angeles, daughter, Esmé Deprez, and son-in-law, Alexander Lowther, of Santa Barbara, Calif.; grandchildren, Hunter and Fisher Deprez and Fern Deprez-Lowther; and siblings, Charlotte Brown of Santa Rosa, Calif., and Gregory Deprez of South Portland.He was predeceased by his brother, Ralph Deprez; and two German short-haired pointers, Weimar and Moxie, to whom no other dogs could ever compare.Special thanks to Christiane Northrup and Lisa Sockabasin for their care and devotion, particularly in his last year. The family intends to throw a party in Ron’s honor after the current pandemic subsides. Please send contact info and memories to Meantime, raise a dirty vodka martini or Guinness, smoke a cigar or make a donation toDoctors Without Borders.

Comments are no longer available on this story