Ronald Lymont “Skip” Quick was very visible in downtown Raleigh, most days strolling the sidewalks aided by a tall walking staff that he had covered with ribbons of copper wire that held in place stones, costume jewelry, broken watches, mismatched earrings, a Native American arrowhead, political campaign buttons, trinkets and even real diamonds.
Jewelry that Quick had crafted from dark leather, metals and stones of turquoise, ruby and clear blue began at the top of his neck in rich coils and spanned his upper chest. A quiet, stately man with a dark-copper face framed by a full gray beard and sideburns, Quick looked like an African village elder with his own handmade creations.
“There was a lot of history on his staff. I would say a lifetime,” said Tamara Gregory, executive director of the Shepherd’s Table Soup Kitchen that Quick visited each weekday for lunch. “He would tell stories about how he got one item from the legislative building or another one on Christmas Eve when it was snowing. He could have been a curator for downtown.”
As visible as he was, Quick, 63, died alone. He was found on July 14 by his neighbors inside his one-room, efficiency apartment on Jones Street, just off Glenwood Avenue. He had been battling cancer, said his aunt, Evelyn Sullivan, 68, of Raleigh.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Police told Sullivan that her nephew probably died July 9. His neighbor’s boyfriend, Larry Highsmith, said he last saw Quick on Monday, July 8.
“I heard him Monday, and Tuesday we didn’t see him,” Highsmith said. “Wednesday it started smelling bad.”
Always eager to help
Word of Quick’s death reached the soup kitchen this week. Gregory said Quick would always show up there after the place had cleared out.
“Before he would eat, he would always pitch in with the help,” she said. “He would always help with the trash, and he loved to fill the napkin holders and the salt and pepper shakers.”
Quick gave in other ways that left a lasting impression on the staff and volunteers. He would usually share magazines and kept the staff informed of upcoming events in downtown Raleigh. He gave as gifts pieces of his jewelry that they now treasure, and he took time to remember them at the holidays.
“He would give us all a Christmas card during the holidays and sign it ‘Skip,’ ” Gregory said. “He would have one for each day. It would say, ‘Thank you, Monday team. Skip.’ ”
Gregory said Quick loved his African-American heritage, often wearing long, silk African robes to the soup kitchen in celebration of the Kwanzaa holiday.
“He would wear them with such pride,” she said. “I would say, ‘Happy Kwanzaa, Skip,’ and he would say, ‘Kwanzaa is every day.’ ”
Ronald Lymont Quick was born March 12, 1950, the oldest of seven children, to the late Herman Sanders and Rosa Quick, who lives in Raleigh. He was raised by his grandparents, Everlee and Worthy McClain, on Oakwood Avenue and was one of the first African-American children to integrate Enloe High School, where he graduated in 1968.
Quick enrolled at nearby St. Augustine’s College and majored in early childhood education. He left college before earning his degree, but found work in his profession by teaching children at an old Head Start program on Hargett Street.
“He was very (in the) present,” said Sullivan, his aunt, who grew up in the same house with him but last spoke with him on Thanksgiving when he showed up at her house holding a bag with an uncooked turkey inside that he wanted her to cook. “He had lots of friends, was very jovial and very well-liked.”
Then in 1989, Quick’s grandmother died. He started to pull away from his family.
“She was the person that raised him and encouraged him to go to school,” Gregory said. “He said she would smack him upside the head to straighten him out. She was a mother.”
Both Gregory and Quick’s family said his struggles with alcohol and prescription drugs didn’t help.
“He seemingly got away from everybody in the early 1990s,” Sullivan said. “About the only family member he would check on was his granddaddy. He would come, clean up and sit down with him.”
By the time Worthy McClain died in 1998, Quick’s estrangement from his family was complete. Of the six siblings he grew up with, two brothers have died, another lives in a rest home in Yadkinville, and another brother and sister are in prison. Another sister just got out of prison.
“He did not like conflict,” Sullivan said. “So you can see why he stayed away. He had a rocky relationship with his family.”
Sullivan said she called Quick’s mother, whom he had not spoken to in more than a decade, and asked her if she planned to attend his memorial service on Friday.
“She said, ‘No. What for?’ ” Sullivan said.
Gregory said she learned about Quick’s cancer diagnosis last spring.
“There were substance abuse issues too, with pain medications, some prescribed and some not,” she said. “You do what you got to do. If I woke up on a cold cement street everyday maybe I would, too.”
Save for stints at the homeless shelter on South Wilmington Street, Quick spent most nights for the past two decades sleeping behind the Progress Energy building where steam rising from the vents would keep him warm. CASA, a nonprofit on Jones Street that provides housing for low-income residents with disabilities, placed him this year in the apartment next door to the agency’s offices.
“He truly was a nice man and a part of Raleigh’s history,” Gregory said. “A good man that got on a bad path. He never complained about it. He just kept going.”
Here to open hearts
Jackie Sanders, Quick’s sister from their father’s later marriage, said her brother’s death made her reconsider how she looks at the homeless and others who are visibly struggling.
“I kept asking, ‘Why? Why?’ ” Sanders said. “Then I talked with my pastor, and he said my brother was on assignment here to open the hearts of people. He reminded me of Moses with that staff. We got a lot more work to do.”
A memorial service for Ronald Quick will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at the Steven L. Lyons Funeral Home, 1515 New Bern Ave.
News researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.