Ronald (“Ron” “Ronnie” “Dad” “Pop” “Grandpa”) William Pizzi passed away in Juno Beach, Florida, on February 25, 2022. Born in Summit, New Jersey, on November 28, 1944, to parents Michael and Antoinette (“Nettie”) Pizzi, Ron is survived by his wife Kathleen Jones Pizzi, his brother Richard (“Richie”), his children Michael Joseph (Ann) and Marianne Christine (Erik) Jansen, and his grandchildren Eloise Jane and Jack Finnegan Pizzi. Funeral services are being planned for the Spring in New Jersey.
An inquisitive mind, a genuine curiosity about others, and a love of both learning and of life made Ron a truly great man. He had a heart of gold and loved his family beyond measure. Ron approached everything he did with zeal. There wasn’t a fish he couldn’t catch, a cookie he wouldn’t bake or a pina colada he didn’t relish. He had a tool for everything and could fix (or at least “MacGuyver”) just about anything. He was the most kind, generous and loving person to all who knew him. His heart was the biggest place you could be in the world.
As a boy, Ronnie was inquisitive, adventuresome and a terror to every squirrel in the neighborhood. After graduating from Admiral Farragut High School in New Jersey, Ron ended up at the University of Miami to study biology. While there he lived with his Aunt Ruth, the “realtor to the stars,” in Miami Beach. When the two were together, Ruth regaled Ron with tales of her interactions with celebrities including Joe Namath and Sonny Werblin.
Ron met Kathy at a funeral, of all places, and after a few months the two were engaged. During their courtship Ron wooed Kathy with his excellent cooking skills and his deft ability to tickle the ivories. His prowess at the piano garnered the admiration of others as well, including that of Kathy’s next-door neighbor, who happened to be Ethel Merman’s niece. The fun that followed Ron wherever he went made such an impression that upon her death, the niece bestowed Ethel’s piano on the young couple.
Ron and Kathy eventually made New Providence, New Jersey, their home. There, young Ron began his 37-year career with the Cranford School District. He became known to one and all as the teacher kids could talk to and trust. In fact, just before school let out for summer one year, a grateful student brought in a batch of chocolate chip cookies made from her grandmother’s secret recipe that were the best cookies he’d ever had. For the next several years, Ron requested that recipe, but to no avail: the grandmother wouldn’t budge. At graduation, the student pulled him aside and furtively handed him a recipe card on which was scribbled “The Recipe.” The student had snuck it out of the house, as the best way to express her gratitude for the education she’d received from Mr. Pizzi.
While his love of kids led him to be a teacher, his occupation meant he had to take a second job from time to time to support his family. One of those jobs was director of Berkley Heights’ summer recreation league – a title he held for many years. Most teachers – especially ones with kids of their own – might long for a summer off from the constant pressure of being a role model to other people’s children. Not Ron. He thrived on the interaction, inventing games and entertaining kids back in the 70s and 80s – those decades when rusty swing sets, hot pavement and bologna sandwiches ruled the land (before the PS5, the iPad, DoorDash and destination sports camps were ubiquitous). A combination of ingenuity and sheer determination drove “Mr. Pizzi” to create many years of idyllic summer memories for countless kids. His dedication wasn’t limited to the summer – Ron would often stay up all night sitting in a folding chair while he iced a vacant lot with a garden hose to create a skating rink for enjoyment on frigid winter weekend mornings.
Ron’s other summer job was as a tuna boat captain. Working out of Belmar, NJ, he spent many an afternoon and overnight out on the ocean making an angler of anyone who stepped aboard. In fact, you didn’t have to be the one with a line in the water to end the trip with the best haul of your life. One night just a few weeks after 9/11, a group of firemen who’d chartered a trip months before informed Ron they’d be one short for the outing. They’d lost their pal on 9/11. Ron’s immediate response was, “You took care of my kids on 9/11. If you just pay for the gas, the charter’s on me.” As the evening got underway, the stress of the previous few weeks hit the NYFD brethren, and the whisky began to flow. Shortly after dark, the entire group was passed out on deck. As fate would have it, an acre of yellowfin tuna circled the boat until morning. Ron and two mates caught more than a dozen massive fish. As dawn broke and the men came to, one looked around at the bounty onboard and said, “Well, boys - I guess we really &*$%ing slaughtered ‘em last night!” In classic fashion, Ron gave the men the highly prized fish to keep or sell.
And that’s who Ron was. Gregarious and affable, his patience, kindness, generosity and curiosity lifted up those around him. He never met a stranger.
As much as Ron loved fishing, teaching, baking and a succession of feisty Schnauzers, he loved his family even more. Kathy, Mike and Marianne always knew they were his number one priority in life.
Eventually, a yearning to return to Florida – combined with a not-so-friendly tax nudge from the State of New Jersey a distaste for chilly Northeast winters – made the prospect of retirement in New Jersey difficult for Ron and Kathy. In their mid-60s, they started a new chapter and moved to Juno Beach. For many, after decades spent building friendships and putting down roots, making such a move would be unthinkable. Not the Pizzis. Within a month the two were mainstays on the social scene of their condominium complex. Ron became the de facto “Mayor.”
Whether they were out walking the dog, fishing off the dock or hosting groups to watch the boat parades streaming past their sunroom, the Pizzis were known to one and all.
Ron’s tricycle quickly became a fixture of the community’s paths and sidewalks. Outfitted with a large basket and fishing rod holders, the massive three-wheeler took him (and his grandkids, and his dog Daisy, and, on occasion, his oxygen tank) everywhere. As his health deteriorated (even after particularly punishing rounds of dialysis) Ron’s trike enabled him to keep walking Daisy, visiting neighbors and generally maintaining his mayoral status.
In later years, as Mike and Marianne grew older, Ron shared his love of fishing with his extended family through trips to Costa Rica, off the canyons of New Jersey and eventually down in Florida. His passion was infectious, and it’s very likely that neither Ann nor Erik would ever have cast a line in the ocean if it weren’t for him. He passed that love onto Eloise and Finn, who can reel in the big ones with the best of them.
His love of teaching (combined with indefatigable ingenuity) made him a most excellent grandfather to his beloved grandchildren. Whether teaching them to dive (using kitchen chairs positioned at the pool’s edge and a couple of floppy pool noodles) or sending them on an expedition to hunt “dinosaur” bones buried in the backyard, there was never a dull moment when Ron was with his grandkids.
At the end of the day, though, Ron simply loved learning. It’s what compelled him to keep adding to an ever-widening circle of friends well into his 70s. He loved learning about people and what made them tick. He loved learning about things. (“Hey, whaddaya think if I put that whatchamacallit in that thingamajig? Think that’ll work? Let’s give it a try.”) Ron’s curiosity about everything around him and his enthusiasm for life spilled over to all he knew. Those of us fortunate enough to have spent time in his presence are exponentially the better for it. We should all approach life with that same interest and desire to always find out more about what’s around us.
They sure don’t make ‘em like that anymore, and it’s a shame. Ron Pizzi will be very dearly missed.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.