By Lori Kerns, AFRH-G Librarian
Ronald Washington was born on July 15, 1947 in St. Louis, MO but was raised in the Robert Taylor Projects, located in the South Side of Chicago, IL. He is the oldest child of thirteen children born to a laborer and nurse’s aide (now called CNA). Throughout his mother’s career she changed jobs but always stayed in the healthcare field. Ronald enjoyed music as a child and eventually taught himself how to play the saxophone. He attended DuSable High School but did not end up graduating. However, he went on to attain his GED.
In 1968, he decided to join the Army because he felt that it was the right thing to do. He was sent to Vietnam for eighteen months where he fought as a combat soldier with the 4th Infantry Division. During his time there, he was grazed by a bullet and wounded by shrapnel. For this, he received an Army Commendation with a V. He came back home in 1970 when he began dealing with what is now known as PTSD. He sought treatment from the V. A. that lasted about four to five years.
After his release from the V. A. around 1975, he decided to rejoin the military but chose the Navy this time around. He was designated as a torpedoman, working as maintenance on weapons. His Navy career started in California. While there, he suffered a heart attack and was put on limited duty. After his recovery, he was sent to Hawaii where he suffered another heart attack. He only had two more years before he could retire. He was fortunate enough to have two men that were instrumental in helping him finish out his career. LT Washington, now a law professor, and CW-04 Johnny “J.J.” Jones both helped him work until his retirement. He still keeps in touch with both men. Finally retiring with 20 years of service, Ronald received a Navy Commendation Medal, a Navy Achievement Medal, an Air Medal, and the Purple Heart (for his wound in Vietnam).
Once he retired, he began working at a law firm as a paralegal. He worked about a year and a half and decided to change careers to work at Neiman Marcus selling suits. When he went in for his interview there, the manager was skeptical at first but upon questioning him about clothing she realized how much he knew. Ronald has always had an affinity for clothing. Unfortunately, he had to leave his job with Neiman Marcus to start selling cars because he began having heart trouble again. Throughout his adult life, he’s suffered from many medical issues such as emphysema, congestive heart failure, and parathyroid cancer. He believes these issues are all tied to the Agent Orange he was exposed to during his time in Vietnam. Because of his health concerns, he was told to retire for good.
When he was younger, Ronald had attended Chicago State University where he earned an Associate of Arts in business and began working on his Bachelor of Arts in music. He played the saxophone and clarinet. He eventually joined a band organization called New Horizons. This organization is for musicians over 50 that meet once a week to put on jams and concerts and march in parades. This international program has even put out albums.
Around 1975, Ronald had gotten married. He and his wife had two children, a boy and a girl. Because his wife was a school teacher who wanted tenure, it was too difficult for her to travel with him. The separation was hard on their marriage so they decided to divorce in 1996. His son now shares his passion for music and has become an accomplished classical musician playing all over the world. He also teaches music to intercity children.
Unsure of how he found out about AFRH, Ronald had been looking to live at the home before Hurricane Katrina. At the time, he really did not want to live in Mississippi. But after Katrina, he decided that Chicago was getting too cold and finally made the move.
When most people at AFRH-G hear Ronald Washington, they immediately think of his creative and colorful paintings. His artwork is displayed throughout the home. It can be found in the Art Gallery, the bank, and even in the guest suites. He was also featured in the newspaper and TV for donating a painting to a boy who went to visit the troops. He never painted before coming to AFRH-G but has found that is relaxing for him. He likes to stay up at night to paint so that he can sleep while he is in the kidney dialysis chair. Besides painting, he enjoys going to the gun range where he shoots pistols and rifles. He also enjoys listening to his iPod that has about 700 songs with a wide variety of music, especially jazz.
When asked what he enjoys about living at AFRH-G, Ronald said, “I’m here living the good life.” He said that when he was a child, he didn’t want to be old, poor, and sick. So he knew to save money his whole life. Now he has everything he wants, needs, or desires right where he is. We’re so glad he enjoys living here since we enjoy his great personality and his beautiful artwork.