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In Memoriam: ASI's Ron Ball

Industry legend Ron Ball, 74, passed away on Tuesday morning, May 15, after a long illness and is survived by his wife of nearly 25 years, Leslie; their sons, Danny (Michelle Lang) and Jeff; his sister, Francine; several nieces and nephews, and his dogs, Archie and Bucky.

Norman Cohn, chairman of the board at ASI, noted that Ron was the best salesperson he had ever met. “He loved this industry and everyone involved,” Cohn said. “He cared about anyone he knew and our family will never forget him.” Vice Chairman Matthew Cohn added, “Ron was special and will be truly missed. His passion for this industry will be felt by generations of those he helped.”

With his penchant for affectionately calling women “honey,” the ashtray with the lit cigarette and billowing smoke he’d keep hidden in his desk drawer, and his fondness in his heyday for two-martini lunches, Ron Ball was Mad Men’s Roger Sterling before there was a Roger Sterling – with a shot of Dean Martin’s roguish charm on the side.

What many in the promotional products industry know about him, of course, is that his name – after a 40-plus-year career with the company – is nearly synonymous with ASI. From his famed client dinners at shows – the sheer size of which resembled a Bar Mitzvah – the fact that many of his clients considered him so much like family that he’d get invited to their weddings, birthdays and kids’ christenings, and the way many of the next generation of promo talent called him “Uncle Ron,” he was as ubiquitous and iconic as the mini-hotdogs in the ASI booth and the company’s Pantone red.

“Always a consummate host, Ron loved to entertain clients at large dinners during industry shows,” said ASI President & CEO Tim Andrews. “Everyone always had a great time, and Ron usually came away with new business that more than paid the dinner tab – and then some.”

Named ASI’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner in 2015 (watch video, below), Ball retired in 2015 but kept in touch with his clients because it simply wasn’t in his DNA not to. “It’s interesting when you really look at your career and there’s that one person you think of and say ‘wow’ because of the impact they’ve made on your life,” says Castelli’s Fran Ford, also a Marvin Spike Award-winner and an industry legend. “Ron is the individual who’s done that for me. No one was better to teach you how to ‘stretch the circle wider,’ and he touched so many of us in such a great way and never asked for a thing in return. Ron’s caring and sharing have been the cornerstone for many careers in our businesses.” 

Not merely content to make money in the promo industry he loved so much, he also gave back, volunteering for years on various PPAI committees and advisory councils. But what he did best – being a world-class raconteur – was hold court as the industry’s most colorful historian. Single-handedly responsible for upwards of $60 million in sales during his tenure at ASI, Ron would often point to the jaw-droppingly absurd moments in the industry – such as riding a tandem bike on the beach with Logomark’s Trevor Gnesin (let’s take a moment to contemplate that visual for the ages) – as some of his favorites.

“For those of us fortunate enough to have known Ron, he was a warm, loving, caring person and a wonderful friend,” said Gnesin. “Ron’s great sense of humor matched his zest for life and being around him was like a breath of fresh air. I can truly say I counted Ron as one of my true great friends in life that I could rely on at any time, and he would never question why I called, but rather ask how he could help. Ron’s contribution to the industry was immense and those of us that worked with him will always appreciate his passion and love for this industry. The many stories and memories I have of Ron will live on. May he Rest in Peace.”

Jo-an Lantz, COO/EVP of Geiger, concurred. “It didn’t matter who you were,” Lantz said. “Ron always had a smile, and made me feel special. He never asked for anything, but he gave me his heart. Now my heart goes out to Leslie, and his entire family.”

Industry veteran Joel Schaffer, owner of Soundline, pointed out that while many suppliers could offer tributes, he grew up in the industry with Ron. “The aisles at trade shows will certainly be haunted by his spirit of walking up and down canvassing for advertisers, relentlessly dictating into his recording device, and building long lasting friendships beyond business,” Schaffer said. “Ron had a most convincing way about him and used it as a powerful closing technique. After show hours stories abound, but my hope is that ASI memorializes Ron as one of the quintessential salespeople within our industry and forever associates his name with distinguished sales achievements."

Jeff Lederer, who remembers when Ron would call on his Dad, Bob, when he started Prime, referred to him as the consummate gentleman. “Ron was always honest, caring, direct and friendly – you felt he was on your side, wanting you to succeed,” Lederer said. “My memories of Ron go back before I joined the industry in 1994, when traveling with my father Bob, who also thought very highly of him. Ron was ASI, he was the industry and he will be missed.”

For me, who was lucky enough to work with and travel the world with Ron for 20 years, there was nothing quite like a Ron-ism – ribald bon mots drolly tossed out just like your eccentric, worldly, character of an Uncle would, such as when he and I took a side trip to Amsterdam on the back end of a week at the PSI Show in Dusseldorf and we gazed silently into one of the famous canals after having indulged in Amsterdam’s finest. “Dolphins are majestic creatures,” he said. “Sweetie, I’m fairly certain there aren’t any dolphins in the Rhine,” I replied. And he turned to me with that glinty twinkle in his eye and said – in that famously nasal, world-worn voice of his – “Baby, I am the fucking dolphin.”

If you knew him like many of us did, there’s not one doubt his absence in our lives will leave a crater-sized hole; and if you didn’t, well, trust me: you would have loved him.

A memorial service will be held this Friday, May 18, at 2 p.m. at Goldstein’s: 310 Second Street Pike in Southampton, PA 18966; (215) 927-5800. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Ron’s honor to: The Animal Welfare Institute, 900 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003; www.awionline.org.

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