A tribute to Ron Harper: A hard-working man who made a difference

Ken H. Fortenberry, Editor and Publisher

Ron Harper was one of the richest men I have ever met.
Rich, not in the monetary sense, although he certainly was much more financially succesful than most of us, but rich in other ways, more important ways.
When I received news Saturday that Ron was gravely ill, I felt a knot grow in my stomach. I hadn’t heard from him in a couple of  weeks, and that explained his lack of communication and encouragement – something I had come to welcome over the past several months since I first met him at his house in Stanley.
The caller told me that he had been diagnosed with a terminal lung cancer about two weeks earlier and was not expected to live very long.
He died Sunday.
An humble, hard-working man with a heart full of love for others, Ron and his wife, Katherine, made headlines a two years ago when they donated $2 million to Gaston County schools – the largest donation in school district history – to help ensure that every classroom in the county could be equipped with high-tech  SMART  boards to help kids learn.
He believed that the boards would make education more interactive and more fun, especially for elementary school students, and hopefully result in a lower dropout rate in the long run. He once wrote that he had a soft spot in his heart for young people who struggle to complete high school, and also for those who never get a diploma.
He was keenly aware that kids who fall behind early in the educational process rarely ever catch up, and that failure results in the greatest nation on Earth having what he called an “inexcusable, unacceptable and unnecessary” high school dropout rate.
He labeled it the “Silent Disease” that is helping to cripple our country. Yes, education is expensive, he said, but the alternative is much more costly.
He didn’t point fingers (there are plenty of places to point), but he wanted to make a difference, and he did.
In both big and small ways.
In big ways like donating huge sums of money to educational and recreational endeavors (Ron and Margaret also contributed money for a park in Stanley and to several universities).
In small ways, like a thoughtful note, a word of encouragement or passing along a beautiful picture that he said brought a smile to his heart and he hoped it would to yours, too.
Ron was a giver, and I’m not talking about money.
He had a way of giving you things that money can’t buy.
He was just that kind of a fellow. Always uplifting. Always suportive. Always encouraging. Always hopeful. Always caring. Always giving.
Ron saw people from the inside-out, and he knew that what really matters is not how a person looks or how they dress, but what’s inside their hearts.
Ron hoped that his life would be an inspiration to others and that he could help create a culture of giving to make our world a better place.
The world already is a better place because of him, and his postitive words of strength will inspire me for the rest of my life.
He made a difference.

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