In Memory of Ron Steiner By Tim Buckley

In Memory of Ron Steiner By Tim Buckley

In Memory of Ron Steiner, Son of a Butcher

By Tim Buckley

Ron Steiner, a successful crusader for abolishment of the death penalty, has died, at age 85. He led OADP for a decade, a time when the organization quadrupled in size and grew exponentially in terms of its impact on Oregon’s criminal justice system.

In his recent book of essays (Seek Peace, Give Service, Be Happy), Ron said proudly, “I’m a son of a butcher!” It always got a laugh, which was one of Ron’s best traits, making people feel relaxed. He even made a home as a registered Republican for a while, where he gained friends and converted many to his abolitionist point of view.

But after meeting Sister Helen Prejean (author, Dead Man Walking), Ron came to see use of capital punishment as butchery, hacking apart our nation’s stated values about life and opportunity. While living in Albuquerque for 30 years, he led a successful career as an ad sales consultant to national broadcasters. He and his wife raised two children who are now parents themselves, and both generations are consistent, effective peacemakers too. As he cut back on his travels, he helped New Mexico to abolish the death penalty, even though Governor Richardson was reluctant.

Ron came to Oregon in the early 2000s, and married Caren Ann Jackson, who was a loving companion, event photographer, and ardent supporter of OADP’s tireless work. In addition to recruiting hundreds of citizens to join the organization, Ron’s work at the administrative and legislative level was awesome. To cite only two examples, both former state prison Superintendent Frank Thompson and former Governor John Kitzhaber were persuaded to become vocal opponents of Oregon’s death penalty. In both cases, the men did so at some risk. In both cases, however, the work they did with OADP was cathartic, helping both men come to terms with having been involved with Oregon’s last two executions, in 1995 and 96. Both Frank and John wrote personal tributes to Ron, which appear in the back of his book, alongside others by Sister Helen and former Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice, Paul DeMuniz.

Perhaps Ron’s crowning touch, accomplished after he passed his 80 th birthday, was gathering the right combination of leaders together in what he called “The Summit”, where the bones of what would become Senate Bill 1013 were crafted. That bill passed in 2019, and “effectively did away with the death penalty,” according to Governor Kate Brown, who supported its passage. The cascade of events following the passage of SB 1013 are the stuff movies are made of:

  • The number of crimes for which a person can be charged with a capital offense, punishable by death, dropped from 19 to four!
  • When the first of Oregon’s death row residents won his suit against the state, because the crime he committed was no longer on the list for a death sentence, the entire death row in Oregon’s maximum-security prison was vacated. The 17 adults in custody were released into the prison’s general population where they will continue to live until their natural death. While imprisoned, they are free to take classes, partake in sports and club activities, and find meaning in their work and life inside.
  • Once that was done, Governor Brown ordered the death chamber to be dismantled and the execution equipment to be sold or discarded.

Using Ron’s “son of a butcher” comment as a metaphor for his abolition work with OADP, what remains of Oregon’s death penalty is written in the state’s Constitution. OADP was the sharp knife and Ron was the lead butcher; together they took the meat off the bones of the practice of state-sanctioned execution, and all that’s left is the skeleton.

OADP is not content with that. Our membership is committed to finishing the job Ron led for 10 years. We have reconstituted our board, launched a new website, and initiated the million conversations about the death penalty project, all with a view towards helping the people of Oregon move to the next step and vote to remove the death penalty from our constitution. In this respect, we can all claim to be sons and daughters of a butcher!

Ron’s Memorial will be held at:

Queen of Peace Church
4227 Lone Oak Road,
Salem, OR, 97302
Friday, June 14th, 2024

If you would like to donate to OADP in Ron’s honor you can do so at this link