Ronald Clair Roat, the Ludington native, journalist and professor who wrote a series of mystery novels beginning with “Close Softly the Doors,” died Thursday, Thanksgiving Day of natural causes. He was 67.
The Ludington High School graduate earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in 1968 and master’s degree from Oregon State University. He worked at newspapers from the Lansing State Journal to the Dayton Daily News and taught journalism at the University of Southern Indiana for more than decades.
He retired to his hometown area in 2007, settling first in Manistee, moving to Fountain, then earlier this year back to Ludington.
His books’ references to Ludington-area landmarks were a thrill for local readers.
“Out in Lake Michigan, several sailboats danced in the afternoon glitter and dodged high-power boats that seemed to go nowhere. To the south jutted the Ludington pier with its storm-ravaged lighthouse,” he wrote in “High Walk.””From Epworth Heights, the Ludington north pier was an obvious place to start on a wondrous painting. Perhaps that’s why it attracted so many who did just that.”
He earned praise for his work on mysteries and his lead character Stuart Mallory from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews and New Letters Review of Books. The first of the series was published in 1991.
“I like to read,” he told this writer in 2008 during an interview. “And besides mysteries, I like to read books which teach me something, make me think, and sweep the mental cobwebs away.”
Books he’d read that year included “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” by Daniel H. Pink, “Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell, and “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” also by Gladwell.
Since he retired back home, he occasionally would call or send emails to the Ludington Daily News, giving “attaboy” comments to the staff here, like the following to Daily News Staff Writer Brian Mulherin:
“You wrote an excellent lead to today’s story. I read so many soft, sterile (boring) leads that it makes me wonder where journalism has wandered. Your lead got the readers’ attention, shined with accuracy, and included every important fact. Nice job.”
Roat continually tried to learn and/or teach.
He offered podcasts through his online Remedial Academy and wrote a blog of his opinions, with the last post in February 2012.
Roger McBain, an arts and culture writer with the Evansville, Indiana, Courier and Press, knew Roat as a professor at the university there.
“He was a very talented and charming and opinionated man,” McBain said.
The two had their daughters around the same time and McBain said he remembers he and Roat, the two reporter-types, asked a lot of questions during Lamaze classes before the girls were born.
When they first met, McBain said he thought the university had hired someone who not only looked like Ernest Hemingway but “even lived in Michigan,” he said.
McBain said Roat had a powerful impact on many of his students, lending out his own favorite books, including “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”
“He was a very smart guy who brought a lot of passion to his teaching and writing,” McBain said.
Roat was able to meet his grandson, his daughter Brittany Evans’ son, Coleman, who was born Oct. 31.
“He was a really good dad,” Evans said, noting he already was a devoted grandfather as well.
He was a pilot, and Evans said her father had a plane when she was growing up.
“He loved flying,” she said. “That was one of his passions.”
Roat served time in the U.S. Army, stateside, from 1968-70.
Oak Grove Funeral Home & Cremation Center is in charge of arrangements.
There is no public service planned. The family expects to gather for a remembrance next summer.