Teacher, priest, artist, conscientious objector, couturier assistant, weaver, storyteller. Born July 13, 1932, in Timmins, Ont., died Jan. 26, 2012, in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, of complications from surgery, aged 79.
Ron Gentile lived an extraordinary life, touching the lives of many people across the world. This past summer, friends and family were so fortunate to be with Ron during his extended leave from his home and work in Gweru, Zimbabwe. Always ready to be in the company of people, he enjoyed the gathering of old friends. We will always treasure his stories, his laughter and his friendship.
Ron and his sisters came to Toronto from Timmins, Ont., for their high-school education. After graduating from St. Michael’s High School, Ron studied at Assumption University in Windsor. While his sister, Anne, was completing her degree at Assumption, Ron worked in Windsor as a social worker. At university, Ron and Anne were a lively, friendly pair, and knew everyone there. Ron’s close relationship with his sister continued throughout his life despite the geographical distance between them. Visiting Anne and her family in Indiana last summer was a highlight for both of them.
In 1957, Ron met John Artibello, the Toronto fashion designer, and worked as his couturier assistant in the first of many career changes. With a spirit of adventure, he next went to Lubeck, Germany, where he taught English and made lifelong friends. Then, in 1963, he joined the Canadian Lay Missionaries. He was posted to the Empandeni Mission and later Kutama Mission in Rhodesia. From there, he moved to Gwelo (Gweru) where he taught high school and then taught at Mkoba Teachers’ Training College.
In 1978, while working as a teacher, he was ordered to serve in the Rhodesian army. He refused. His case went to trial, and he was forced to leave the country. This was the most traumatic event in his life. His friend, the late Peter Garlake, an archeologist, offered Ron refuge in his London home. He then came back to Toronto until 1980, when he returned to teaching in the new country of Zimbabwe.
In 1987, he arrived at St. Basil’s College in Toronto to complete his studies to become a priest – studies he had begun in the 1950s. He was ordained in 1989 when he returned to Zimbabwe, in the Gweru Diocese. He continued his work and assisted in the cathedral, taking delight in a liturgy he felt was so “alive.”
Ron was deeply spiritual, with an overriding respect for all people. He worked to achieve social justice and basic human rights for all groups, particularly the poor. In 2008, to provide funding for his charities, he exhibited and sold a collection of his weavings at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo.
Ron brought people from a wide variety of backgrounds together, and so it was a fitting tribute to Ron that at his funeral, there was an overflow of people from Gweru, who came together to say a final goodbye to their friend, Father Ron Gentile.
His enthusiasm for life and people, his generosity and loyalty will be greatly missed.
Ron leaves his sisters, Anne Beach of Naples, Fla., and Margaret Petrone of Elliot Lake, Ont.
Christine Lewis, Janice Sellers and Ted Turner are friends of Ron.