Today would have been the 87th birthday of Armando Ramirez. But two months ago he quietly bid farewell to this world — a world that he loved, but also gave his energies and spirti to change for the better. In his final moments, he was listening to his favorite folk songs, sung by two of his children.
Armando was my pal of forty years. Someone I could lean on, and I like to think he could do the same. I miss him dearly and daily.
Though we were living on opposite ends of the country, we talked frequently on the phone and few things gave me more pleasure than to hear his voice. Our conversations were never long. And sometimes we talked nonsense, although in the past year we inevitably gravitated toward the elections.
And of course basketball, a game we loved, often came up. So much so that when we were both living in Detroit we were fans of the famed Southwestern High School high school in our neighborhood.
Armando, perhaps more than anybody I know, was extraordinarily kind, generous of spirit, and modest. Bullshitting and name dropping to impress others were not in his DNA. He was also, over a lifetime, a warrior for justice and socialism and a member of the Communist Party. If the term “genuine article” has any meaning, he embodied it. He’s on my Mt. Rushmore of beautiful people and will stay there forever.
Of course, my affection for him was no more than that felt by others who met and loved him too.
His life journey began in Chicago’s “back of the yards” neighborhood and eventually took him to Detroit, where he was first a Communist Party organizer and then an auto worker, at GM and at Ford. He told me more than once that his political education largely took place in Detroit. There he was involved in a whole range of struggles — against plant closings, the organization of Mexican Industries, the election campaigns of Mayor Coleman Young, and much more. He was no Monday morning quarterback.
He knew socialism had no delivery date, but no doubt he wished it would have arrived before he departed this world. Nonetheless, he was happy in the good fight, shoulder to shoulder with the class and people of which he was a proud son.
When I saw him last, in Oakland in January, I told him that I would come back when the weather warmed up — he hated the cold — and that we would sit on his daughter’s deck. And the deal was that he could regale me with stories and I would drink some good red wine and probably get a little tipsy. He liked the bargain, and I did even more.
Two weeks ago, we planted an apple tree in my daughter Julia’s backyard in memory of Armando. Our small ceremony included short remembrances by each of us and a toast or two. We also buried a tennis ball — he loved and played tennis well into his early 80s — with the tree. And songs he knew and loved well filled the air: De Colores (Joan Baez), Guantanamera (Cubans around the world), Deportee (Arlo and Emmy Lou Harris), and Long Way Around (Dixie Chicks). The rain that fell blended with our bittersweet tears of love and sorrow.
After the planting, we went inside, enjoyed some homemade (and very good) Mexican food plus drink, and shared more memories of Armando.
Armando will never disappear into the recesses of our memory. He will remain, presente!