Remembering a friend and mentor

Remembering a friend and mentor

My girlfriend tells me that I'd light up like a Christmas tree whenever I’d see my friend and former boss, Ron Mastro, retired publisher of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine. How could anyone not? The man had buckets of charisma and when he turned on his high beams, you couldn’t help but smile. The laughs and smiles will stay with me even though I had to say goodbye to him Sunday after he lost his battle with lung and brain cancer. Ron was a month shy of his 71st birthday.

For close to 15 years he led the magazine and its affiliated COTScon show – later called the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum. A Navy veteran, Ron thrived in the military electronics market and took great pride that his little publishing niche covered an institution – the U.S. military – that he loved and respected. Though considered a bit of a maverick by his bosses, his leadership style generated loyalty as well as revenue, as he ran a profitable media franchise year after year for PennWell.

Ron’s staff loved him because he treated them more like a family than a staff. He always preached that we keep disagreements in the family, solve them in the family. He was loyal to us and we were loyal to him. As a result, we had a close-knit core staff – publisher, sales rep, and two editors – who stayed together from the time I joined the magazine in 1996 till Ron retired in 2008. Very little turnover, and Ron was a big reason for that.

A born bon vivant and raconteur, he launched countless friendships every time he said, “Hi, I’m Ron Mastro.” Ron told me he tried to get everyone to like him – whether it was a potential customer, a waitress, bellhop, valet, police officers, and so on. They didn’t always like him back, as Ron was opinionated – especially about his Republican politics. He even held a small, elected office in New York in the 1980s. Never shy, Ron said whatever was on his mind. He once joked with an executive during a budget meeting to “hurry it up, you’re cutting into my nap time.” Ron also had Irish diplomacy, in other words “the ability to tell a man to go to hell and make him look forward to the trip.” He’d chew out a colleague, only to have the same guy call and thank him an hour later.

There are tons of stories like that about Ron, most of which I can’t tell here because he flavored his speech with four-letter words befitting the sailor he was – a former Navy Asst. 1st Class Petty Officer serving on a Navy HSS-2 Sea King helicopter -- later designated the SH-3A. Ron was a well-read storyteller with a colorful lack of a filter that endeared him to his friends and colleagues.

He was a human social network long before there was ever a LinkedIn or a Facebook. “I channeled Ron today,” an introverted mutual friend told me after hearing Ron passed away. “I said hi to every stranger that crossed my path, asked how they were doing, asked their names. I connected with people and it felt good to be like Ron.”

Ron was known for hugging his way out of the office and that’s how he went through life too. Delivered devastating news that cancer had spread to his brain, Ron did what any of us would do and had a pity party. However, Ron’s pity party was a cocktail party with wine, whiskey, and beer flowing for 30 of his closest friends in The Villages, a golf-cart retirement community in Florida. The Villages is advertised as “America’s friendliest hometown” – the perfect place for Ron. He spent most of his last five years there trying to break 90 in golf, reading historical novels and the works of political columnists, and enjoying his children and grandchildren.

Fortunately for me, Ron retired near my parents and I was able to golf, drink wine, and spend time with him every few months. I can still see him now, drinking a whiskey on the rocks on his Florida porch or outside a hotel bar on the road, saying: “John, are you happy?” He meant happy in my job, my love life, or just that day. Well, I am happy. Happy and grateful I knew and loved a man like him. Through the years Ron was at times a boss, a second father, a mentor, and a golf buddy, but most of all he was my friend. One of the best I ever had and I miss him terribly.

Ron leaves his wife of nearly 49 years, Cheryl; daughters Deidre, Danielle, and Megan; and five grandchildren. Services will be Monday, April 22 at 8:30 a.m. at 5323 E CR 462, Wildwood, FL 34785. In lieu of flowers the family has asked that donations be made to the Wounded Warrior Project foundation in Ron’s name online at www.woundedwarriorproject.org. For more memories of Ron and his rare way with people, please read the tribute from our former colleague, John Keller, titled "Ron Mastro: an unforgettable figure in the aerospace and defense electronics industry," with a thoughtful comment from another colleague, J.R.Wilson. It is available online at militaryaerospace.com.