Occidental man, 67, drowns on Panama vacation
Roland W. “Ron” Anderson Jr. drowned while bodysurfing on a balmy, moonlit night two weekends ago during a vacation trip to
Panama with four longtime friends. He was 67.
The five men waded into the Pacific surf under a full moon on the night of June 2, and two of them, including Anderson, ventured out farther than the others. They suddenly found themselves caught in a riptide in water over their heads.
The other man made it back to shore. Searchers found Anderson’s body on the sand near the Panamanian city of David early in the morning of June 4.
Friends and family remembered Anderson as a big-hearted man with an irreverent wit, a yen for stories, practical jokes and abiding friendships.
“He was just bigger than life,” said his daughter, Erica Parman of Santa Rosa. “He loved unconditionally. He taught us to forgive, and not to judge people.”
Recalling her teen and young adult years, Parman said that whenever she or her brother, Chad Anderson of Santa Rosa, held parties, friends always asked: “Are your parents going to be there?”
People often likened Anderson, a retired telephone lineman, to quipster George Burns, and Diana Anderson, his wife of 45 years, to Gracie Allen, the patient straightwoman.
“She just went along with it; maybe a few eye rolls here and there,” Parman said.
Diana Anderson said she teased her husband that “anybody he made eye contact with became his new friend, but it was true. He loved to hear their stories, and tell them his, always genuinely interested and caring.”
The Andersons moved to Sonoma County with their young children 39 years ago, built a home in Occidental and traveled widely after Anderson retired from the phone company after a 43-year career.
One of Diana Anderson’s favorite stories involves their wedding in September, 1967 in an Escondido hospital room.
Ron Anderson, who had quit college in Tennessee and become a lineman, stopped his truck at a doughnut shop on the way to work in Escondido. Diana, 17, was at the shop with a friend. A week later they went out on a date, and the night Diana graduated from high school they got engaged.
At his bachelor party the night before the wedding, friends tossed Anderson into a pool that was actually a shallow fish pond with dark water. His neck was broken in three places and he narrowly avoided paralysis.
But the wedding ensued two days later, in part because the best man had been drafted, with Anderson’s father, a Presbyterian minister, performing the ceremony.
Ron was flat on his back, in traction, wearing a hospital gown and with a mirror over his head to see the 40 guests squeezed into the room.
Diana wore her wedding gown, and after the guests departed for a reception, Ron had broth and Diana enjoyed a steak dinner.
“He still talked about that,” she said.
A dedicated San Francisco Giants fan, Anderson retired five years ago. The couple traveled the world, served as volunteer theater ushers and went to a gym together.
Ron Anderson took up golf, “cursing, laughing or patting himself on the back,” his wife said.
John Daly of Occidental, who was with Anderson in Panama, said the group of men had been making trips to Mexico for about 20 years before one of them built a beachfront home in Panama.
“He was the first one in the ocean and the last one out,” Daly said. “I feel very blessed that he was my friend for so many years.”
Survivors, in addition to his wife and children, are his father, Roland Anderson Sr. of Santa Rosa; sisters, Bonnie Salhaney of Eagle Rock and Cheryl Szuch of Oceanside; and five grandsons.
A celebration of Anderson’s life will be at 11 a.m. June 24 at the Sebastopol Veterans Memorial Building, 282 High St., Sebastopol.
Memorial donations may be made to the Junior Giants at www.jrgiants.org or 877-574-4268.