School counselor lifted spirits

Ron Grace was the heart and soul of Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Glendale, a man who changed students’ lives and constantly uplifted colleagues.

But had he been at school on Monday, Principal Maria Gandera said, he would have been talking about two things: How the San Diego Chargers got fleeced on Sunday, and how ridiculous it was to see reporters and a television camera in front of his school.

“He’d just find this funny, because he was never out there seeking any attention,” Gandera said.

Roosevelt was in the media eye Monday because Grace, the school’s head counselor, was killed in the crash of Metrolink train 111 on Friday as he was riding home to Simi Valley.


He was 55.

The loss devastated not only his family, including his wife and two sons, but the school where he worked for 23 years.

“Ron Grace: I think his name said it all,” Gandera said. “He was a quiet, dignified man -- with a devilish sense of humor.”

Grace had an ever-present smile, colleagues remembered, and showed extraordinary devotion to students, often giving up his lunch break to referee football or basketball games.

“He was part of our family,” said Emma Villalobos, whose three daughters were counseled by Grace. When Villalobos went through a divorce, she said, Grace helped her two older daughters through the tumult. Because of him, she said, one is now at UCLA, the other at Cal State Northridge. The third is in eighth grade at Roosevelt.

“My kids,” she said, “had an angel named Mr. Grace.”

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Ronald Gerard Grace moved to Glendale at the age of 1. He attended Bellarmine-Jefferson High School in Burbank, where he was a standout on the football field and in the classroom. At San Diego State University, he developed a fanatical devotion to the Chargers.

He began working at Roosevelt in 1985 as a physical education teacher and became a counselor four years later.

He is survived by his wife, Jan; sons Andrew, 23, and Brian, 19; and five siblings, Jack Grace, Arleen Grace, Ginger Lyman, Michelle Stochel and Lorraine Grace.

A memorial service will be held at San Fernando Mission on Sept. 27 at 11 a.m.

Recalling her brother, Lorraine Grace said: “He was an incredibly happy person. His favorite saying was, ‘The glass is half full.’ He loved adventure, loved doing new things. I admire him more than anyone else in the entire world.

“The universe surely shifted on Friday.”

-- Mitchell Landsberg