Ronald Eugene Erickson passed away on October 8, 2023, joining his beloved wife Nancy who died in February 2022. An only child, Ron was born on April 20, 1933, in Peoria, Illinois. He worked his way through college, graduating from Bradley University with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry in 1955. He then attended the University of Iowa, where he earned a PhD in Organic Chemistry in 1958 and met the love of his life, Nancy A. Nielsen. They married in early 1959. Ron did his postdoctoral research at the University of Texas (1958-1960; 1961) and, as the recipient of a NATO fellowship to study the ozone layer, at the Technische Hochschule in Karlsruhe, Germany (1960-1961). Ron and Nancy loved living in Germany, sampling the beer and visiting every art museum possible with baby Christine in the stroller. In late 1961, the Erickson family moved to Buffalo, New York, where Terrell was born, and Ron worked as a professor of chemistry at Canisius College. Four years later, the family moved to Missoula, where Ron continued his work as a professor of chemistry at the University of Montana. Ron and the late Clancy Gordon co-founded the Environmental Studies Program in 1970, recognizing the need to create an interdisciplinary program that combined academic rigor in the sciences and humanities with advocacy for the environment. Ron served as the program director from 1976 to 1984 and continued to work at the university until he taught his last course in the fall of 1998. His later courses reflected his interest in the intersection of environmental issues with the humanities, such as Environmental Ethics through Story, Environmental Utopias, and Ethics, Beauty, and the Environment, co-taught with Roger Dunsmore.
Ron took his passion about civic matters and policy to the state level when he ran for and was elected to the Montana House of Representatives for four terms, 1999 to 2005; 2007-2009, and then to the Montana Senate for one term, 2009-2013. As journalist Charles S. Johnson remarked in 2001, Ron brought “a wealth of knowledge [to the House] through his ability to analyze tough tax and natural resource issues.” He served on a number of committees, including the Taxation Committee and the Natural Resources Committee in the House, and the Local Government Committee and the Taxation Committee in the Senate.
Ron embraced community activism at many different levels throughout his life, always keeping in mind the public good. He created with other faculty members the Western Montana Scientists Committee for Public Information, helped organize Concerned Citizens for a Quality Environment and served as its chair to confront Hoerner Waldorf’s efforts to expand its pulp mill operations, and served on the Montana Environmental Information Center’s board, which awarded him Conservationist of the Year in 1985. In the mid 1990s, Ron chaired the City-County Open Space Advisory Committee, achieving a victory along with other environmental groups when Missoulians voted to approve a $5 million bond in 1995 to protect Mount Jumbo from development. Greg Tollefson, executive director of the Five Valleys Land Trust, noted as he remembered Ron’s work on the committee, “I had long been aware that the ‘force’ called Ron Erickson was at work in our community, but until our paths converged, I had no idea what a powerful force you were. Your wisdom, your vision, your generosity, and your dogged determination have provided a model for what selfless community service is all about.”
While protecting the environment was front and center for Ron, he was also involved in other causes. Ron was an early opponent of the Vietnam War, serving as coordinator of the Universities National Anti-War Fund and organizing UM faculty against the war. A vigorous supporter of unions, he served as the treasurer for the University Teachers’ Union for many years, as well as serving as the chief negotiator for the union’s marketing team. Ron was vice-chairman of the Save the Fort organization that fought the University of Montana’s effort to sell part of Fort Missoula to housing. He was also active in Friends of Pattee Canyon and served two terms on the City County Planning Board, ending his service just after he turned 84.
He loved reading poetry and books on history, politics, science fiction, and philosophy. Ron also enjoyed writing and leaves behind a folder of poems he composed for Nancy. A passionate, long-time fan of the Boston Celtics, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Pittsburgh Steelers, Ron also enjoyed the game of chess, winning the Montana State Chess Championship in 1987 and other tournaments. His success at chess did not spill over to his golf game; nonetheless, he pursued the greens with great enthusiasm usually with his long-suffering friends Richard Chapman and Dennis McCormick.
Ron and Nancy loved their home in Pattee Canyon, where they lived for over fifty years. They succeeded in making it a peaceful sanctuary filled with gardens, art, and Siamese cats. In his last year of life, Ron lived at The Springs, where he greatly appreciated the care and kindness of staff and of his new friends. Ron leaves behind two daughters, Christine K. Erickson and Terrell A. Erickson (Christopher Puttock), and one granddaughter, Avery A. Erickson. A Celebration of Life memorial will be held in the spring.
In lieu of flowers, donations to the Ron and Nancy Erickson scholarship in EVST would be appreciated. Visit the U of Montana Foundation at https://supportum.org/give/default.php (https://supportum.org/give/default.php)
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