By Rafael Brusilow
Ryerson’s Theatre School lost a well-loved instructor last Monday when an unidentified infection claimed the life of Ron Epp, a gentle giant who loved teaching, playing darts and making people laugh.
Ron was 42 years old and taught theatrical rigging and health and safety classes part-time to third- and fourth-year students at Ryerson. He also worked for 17 years at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, starting out as a temporary worker, but progressing quickly to become the exhibition’s head carpenter.
Ron also conducted rigging workshops for other professionals in the theatre industry, a role that garnered him industry-wide recognition as an expert in his field.
Family members, friends and students were shocked by Ron’s sudden passing. “It’s unbelievable. He was so strong and happy,” said Ron’s father, retired farmer Abram H. Epp.
“It’s such a loss for the theatre community and Ryerson,” said Matt Farrell, a Ryerson graduate who attended Ron’s rigging class in 1996.
Farrell, now a technical theatre director in Toronto, says he still uses the knots and rigging techniques Ron taught him. “It was very obvious he loved teaching, and he was good at it too,” Farrell said. “He was very nice,” said third-year theatre production student Greg Good, who attended Ron’s class two weeks ago. “I was looking forward to [more] classes.”
The outpouring of grief from Ron’s friends across Canada has been immense, Kathy Epp, Ron’s sister said. “We really realize how much he was loved. It seems like he made everybody feel so special,” she said.
Ron was taken by ambulance to Greater Niagara General Hospital at 8 a.m. on the morning of Monday, Jan.10. At the hospital, doctors struggled to diagnose the unidentified infection that was attacking Ron’s body. Ron’s niece Stephanie rushed to the hospital and sat with Ron, holding his hand and talking to him as he lay in a soft bed. She wore a surgical mask, afraid Ron’s condition might be contagious.
Though Ron had difficulty speaking, he kept saying, “they don’t know what it is.” Stephanie was the last person to speak with Ron. By 6 p.m. Ron’s condition deteriorated and doctors sedated him, transferring his breathing functions to a respirator in a final effort to prolong his life.
At 10:15 p.m., Ron Epp died from complications due to infection. An autopsy has so far revealed no further details about the strange infection that took Ron’s life. Almost two hundred people attended Ron’s funeral, held in Leamington, Ont. last Friday at his family’s request.
“Some of the kids that went to high school with him showed up at the funeral,” said Ron’s father. Ron is the first instructor to die while still actively teaching at Ryerson.
Ron was unmarried and is survived by his father, three sisters and two brothers. Two new instructors will take over Ron’s courses, starting with classes this week.