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Ronald Edward Allen was born on Fort Ord in Pittsburgh, California, on Aug. 30, 1951, to Paul and Bunny Allen. Although he was born in California, he spent very little of his life there as his parents moved to Las Vegas and then to Billings early on. Throughout his life, he maintained an allegiance to his roots and would tell anyone he could during the hard Montana winter months that he wasn’t built for this cold; he was a California kid.
Ron grew up on the golf course as a bag boy and all-around “servant,” as he would put it, to his dad at the club. Ron was a PGA professional with a hippie heart. In his younger years, he ran away from home multiple times. In 1967, after a particularly bad argument with his parents, he walked to school and just kept going, getting all the way out to the interstate. He proceeded to hitchhike his way to California and disappeared for a few months at the corner of Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love.
In 1976, Ron married Kathleen Gallagher from Boulder, Colorado. They met while he was working as an assistant golf pro at the Boulder Country Club. Despite having only one golf lesson together, they fell in love and got engaged within three months, leading to a whirlwind wedding. They went on to enjoy a nearly 30-year marriage, which included moves, raising three children, business deals, travel, jokes and the addition of five dogs and three cats to their family. During this time, Ron also converted to Catholicism. While teaching his children how to play golf, Ron tirelessly repeated his signature sayings: “brush the grass” and “hold your finish.” He repeated them so often that his children could hear them in their sleep.
Ron was a PGA Golf Professional and had a whopping FIVE holes in one in his lifetime. He met many characters as a pro and could always entertain you with stories about his time teaching golf, as well as his friendships with legends like Evel Knievel and Bobby Riggs (right after his infamous loss to Billie Jean King). His favorite aspect of golf was teaching. He had a special passion for cultivating a love for the game among junior players. Golf was one of the greatest loves of his life, and he played it until he was physically unable. Even during his final days, his muscle memory would kick in and he would practice his grip with his hands.
In 1989, Ron brought together key investors, architects and players to purchase the land and develop the Red Lodge Golf Course. He and his wife Kathy moved their three kids to Red Lodge and ran the course for four years before it was sold in 1994 to the ski mountain. Ron loved that course and had a way he thought it should be run. When some of the investors wanted to make more money out of the place, he stepped down in his role. Although he didn’t get to run the course for as long as he hoped, he always loved it and was proud of the role he played to make it come to life.
After leaving Red Lodge, he and Kathy moved their family to Billings and became a licensee of Kathy’s family business, Smoker Friendly, The Cigarette Store. Together they opened and operated six stores in the Billings area. They became members at the Yellowstone Country Club and planted deep roots in the Billings community. They were the best kind of philanthropists and gave freely to youth sports, clubs, community theater, the cystic fibrosis foundation and more.
Ron had three children: the oldest, Elizabeth; Thomas; and Emelia or “Mimi.” Ron was the fan you didn’t know you needed and often didn’t want at your game. He was outrageously loud when he sat in the audience for any of his daughter’s theatrical performances and an obsessive pacer and smoker while his son smashed the tennis ball. He was and could be obscene, inappropriate, witty, irate, hysterically funny, emotionally charged, vengeful, considerate, caring, clever … the list goes on and on. Above all, he was a deeply complex and complicated person as most of us are; he just didn’t know how to hide it as well as some of us.
Ron and Kathy divorced in 2007 and Ron struggled to find his footing again. Ron’s big personality was more than just a performance. In many ways, it was the mask he hid behind or it was unrelenting mental illness. He loved people in hard places and spent a lot of time in AA, NA, ALANON. You could say he had friends in both high and low places. He found beauty in the most hurt souls and would viciously fight with those he loved about the dignity and humanity of someone he had just met.
Ron had a lot of spectacular traits and ways about him. He was a great tipper. He would play the guitar and sing like he was really good. What he lacked in tune and talent, he made up for in gumption and commitment. Many nights were spent singing Janis Joplin, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Billy Joel. He loved being a Baba (grandpa) of six , the Rimrocks, golf, planes, computers, bridge, poker and gin, looking through binoculars, native traditions, going for a drive, his ’67 Chevelle SS, and sitting in the graveyard with friends and family he had lost along the way.
Ron had an incredible memory for details and could captivate anyone with his stories. He had a knack for noticing specific mannerisms or unique details about a person that you never could have picked up on your own, but once he mentioned them, you knew they were true. He had a great sense of humor and could make you laugh so hard that it hurt, and then he would even find enjoyment in your pain.
In the last 20 years of his life, Ron faced many challenges. Despite being an upstanding member of his community, he experienced bouts of homelessness and other difficulties. These struggles highlighted his lifelong battle with mental health. If you are someone that struggles with mental health or you have family members that do, then you know that sometimes the biggest obstacle to stable housing is not the physical or monetary resources needed, but the mental and emotional supports that must be in place first. (Although money helps too!)
He was a man of many words and, in a letter from 2000 to his daughter Elizabeth, he wrote the following: “Everyone has to march to their own drummer. Never do anything solely for the approval of others, whether they be your parents, teachers, friends, or whomever. Albeit, it is nice to go through life and glean the approval of those you love and respect. However, deep down, there is only one person you have to satisfy, only one person whose approval you really need and that is Elizabeth K.”
Ron was loved and supported by many. First and foremost, his loyal sisters Paula and Pam, who never gave up and never stopped giving. His children Elizabeth (Ryan), Thomas (Diane) and Emelia (Andy) brought him immense joy and gave him the six lights of his life: his grandchildren Monte, Abel, Fletcher, Louie, Adriana and Eliana. He was lovingly embraced by many nieces and nephews and their numerous progeny. He was preceded in death by his parents, Bunny and Paul; and his beloved baby brothers, Howard and Mark.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to your local mission, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, or any organization that serves those most in need.
We are starting a project in honor of our dad called Project MadDad. This project aims to remind you that you are the perfect fit for your own life. We plan to print hundreds, if not thousands, of stickers and encourage you to place them in public restrooms, museums, historic points, casinos, and anywhere else where someone might find themselves questioning if their current struggles matter. The sticker will feature his picture and a scannable QR code that will direct you to a webpage. If you are interested in receiving free stickers email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us where you might be placing them and please be sure to include your mailing address too!
His message and story serve as a reminder that someone else has walked in your shoes before and that, like our dad who was loved his whole life, you too are loved. Many families and individuals struggle, and there are often people who feel like outsiders within their own families and don’t realize how truly loved they are. Our dad’s story is a reminder that he once thought his family couldn’t love him or didn’t love him because of his decisions, choices, and mental illness, but that wasn’t true. And it’s not true for you either.
On Saturday, April 15, Ron passed away. He spent his final days and last moments surrounded by his children recounting and laughing at his many wild stories. In the days that preceded his death, he reconciled with his daughter after a three-year estrangement and his ex-wife traveled to Billings to be with him and their family. After Ron’s passing, his entire family, who had loved and supported him throughout his life, came together to remember him. His two sisters, Pam and Paula; his brother-in-law John; all of his nieces and nephews and their families shared stories, laughed at his jokes, and mourned his loss. In the end, everyone was there for him. Everyone, including those he thought he had lost or hurt along the way, showed up to honor him because his life, however complicated, mattered. And so does yours.
To learn more about the project please visit www.projectmaddad.com , or follow us on social media: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok.