Obituary: Always a Twinkle in His Eye
Ron Hatch was a gentleman and a scholar who never sought the limelight; always empowering others to do so.
November 29th, 2021
As co-manager (with his wife Veronica) of the Ronsdale Press imprint, Ron Hatch was the recipient of the Jim Douglas Publisher of the Year Award in 2014, an appropriate honour for someone who doubled as one of the most respected and fastidious copy editors in the book trade.
by Alan Twigg
Beloved publisher and editor Ron Hatch died peacefully at Vancouver General Hospital on November 25, 2021, with a soundtrack of his favourite baroque music playing, having persevered with cancer for much of the year while continuing to function steadfastly as a publisher for as long as possible.
A keen environmentalist, a meticulous proofreader and a courageous soul, Ron Hatch was a gentleman and a scholar who never sought the limelight; always empowering others to do so. Without any fanfare, his Ronsdale Press, co-managed by his wife Veronica Hatch, compiled an impressive list of biographies about prominent British Columbians such as lifeguard Joe Fortes, sprinter Percy Williams, Nobel Prize winner Michael Smith, WW II resistance hero and forest scientist Vladimir Krajina, weightlifter Doug Hepburn, first Indigenous MP Frank Calder, composer Jean Coulthand and African bush doctor and Albert Schweitzer colleague Louise Jilek-Aall.
The most recent Ronsdale title to win a significant prize is Geoff Mynett’s biography, Service on the Skeena: Horace Wrinch, Frontier Physician, winner of the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in 2021. It also received the Jeanne Clark Publication Award.
In 2019, Daniel Marshall’s Claiming The Land: British Columbia and the Making of a New El Dorado received the CHA Clio Prize as well as the Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize for Outstanding Academic Book in B.C.
Ron Hatch never blew his own horn. He resolutely went about his business, publishing more than 300 titles, including a series in support of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. These titles included Bialystock to Birkenau: The Holocaust Journey of Michel Mielnicki, (2000), as told to John Munro, introduction by Sir Martin Gilbert; Lillian Boraks Nemetz’ Ghost Children (2000); Leon Kahn’s No Time to Mourn: The True Story of a Jewish Partisan Fighter (2004); Rhodea Shandler’s A Long Labour: A Dutch Mother’s Holocaust Memoir (2007); and Barbara Ruth Bluman’s I Have My Mother’s Eyes: A Holocaust Memoir Across Generations (2009).
Although not a gusher, Ron Hatch was exceptionally proud to have published Richard Wagamese’s book of poetry Runaway Dreams (2011).
In 2014, the Association of Book Publishers of BC announced Ron Hatch and his Ronsdale Press imprint was the recipient of its annual Jim Douglas Publisher of the Year Award, an appropriate honour for someone who doubled as one of the most respected and fastidious copy editors in the book trade.
Most Ronsdale titles have been designed by Julie Cochrane and the top floor of the Hatch household on West 21st Avenue in the Dunbar neighborhood of Vancouver has always served as the headquarters. The press is currently managed by Kevin Welsh. Previous assistant publishers included Hélène Leboucher and Meagan Dyer.
Remembering Ron Hatch
Although Ron developed an intense critical awareness as a distinguished English literature professor, I never heard him make a negative comment about anyone during the thirty-plus years I knew him as a neighbour and Ronsdale author. He often struck me as old-fashioned in the best possible ways. To save money on stamps, he or Veronica preferred to drop off their cheque payments for ads by hand while I was publishing B.C. BookWorld. At a crowded literary event, I once spontaneously introduced Ron Hatch to the person next to me by saying. “This is Ron Hatch. He tells the truth and he does things on time.”
Ron loved to ride his motorcycle, he enjoyed family time at three cabin retreats (Hollyburn Mountain, Comox and Loup Garou near Prince George). Ron was an accomplished mountaineer in his youth including first ascents in the Himalayas. He was a steadfast supporter of wilderness-saving efforts in B.C. long before they became mainstream concerns and was even willing to be thrown in jail alongside his son, Chris and daughter-in-law Tzeporah Berman.
I well remember the day in 1993 when Ron dropped by and chuckled with pride when he showed me the ankle bracelet he was forced to wear after he was arrested by the RCMP at Clayoquot Sound anti-logging protests. I have ended up doing seven books with him—with an eighth title on the Holocaust literature of British Columbia now in limbo—and I have never regretted a second I spent with him.
Back in 2013, aware that Ron’s low-key and determinedly non-self-referential manner was being under-recognized, I organized a surprise gathering to mark Ron’s and Veronica’s twenty-fifth anniversary as a publishing team. Here are some comments that arose:
“Ron is indeed on the side of the angels, a wonderful publisher and person.” — J. Edward Chamberlin
“Ron has been a gentle warrior for B.C. history and he and Veronica’s vigorous publishing tells a much more complete story of the West Coast. They love this place and have worked hard to conserve its best qualities. My great thanks to both for going the extra distance.” — Douglas Todd
“I am proud to be among Ron’s roster of very fine authors. All of Ronsdale’s books are of high literary quality with wide-ranging topics, the scale of Ronsdale’s contribution to literature in Canada being much larger than its size. As an editor Ron has been a tremendous support to me, helping me to get the best out of my manuscripts and correcting my egregious grammatical errors with patience and good humour—and always with a twinkle in his eye. Ronsdale Press meets publication deadlines, helps with promotion, puts out stunningly beautiful catalogues and, unlike many publishers these days, pays royalties on time. Throughout the process, Veronica is at Ron’s side with her wisdom and a sweet smile.” — Beryl Young
“Ron published my book, The Opening Act: Canadian Theatre History 1945-1953, because it was a worthy subject, not because he ever expected to make any money from it. I will be forever in his debt.” — Susan McNicoll
“Ron is the best editor I have ever worked with.” — Ann Walsh
“There is one Ron Hatch. I wish there thirteen Ron Hatches: one for each provincial and territorial capital. One is not enough!… I admire his determination to publish quality books in the face of public apathy. It is enough for me to know that he is there, “there” being in the busy world of authorship, editing, and publishing.” — John Robert Colombo
“The thing that stands out for me about Ron is his honesty, something that has come through in both my own dealings with him and in discussions I’ve had with others. As a new author, it has made doing business with him very comfortable for me.” — Patrick Bowman
“I have nothing but gratitude to Ron, Veronica, and Ronsdale for publishing my volume of poetry, At the Mercy Seat, back in 2003. Books have an ongoing life, a mysterious consciousness that continues to reach out and connect. Yet without publishers of integrity like Ron, this rich process wouldn’t happen. — Susan McCaslin
“We are grateful to Ron for his care and his publishing advice when we needed it.” — Mona Fertig and Peter Haase, Mother Tongue Publishing
“From Hamilton, I join heartily in singing your praises as an editor, publisher and gentleman non pareil. — Jean Rae Baxter
“When my co-editor and I approached Ronsdale with our manuscript I had been professionally published only once before, many years previously. It was daunting to re-enter the game of pitching to publishers. When Ron accepted our book, that closed door was once again opened and has remained so.” — Chris Lowther
“Ron has a kindly tolerance and understanding of authors and would-be authors despite their many founderings. Even his rejections are couched in sorrow. The Ronsdale team has become firmly established as a much-respected member of the BC book world.” — Betty O’Keefe and Ian MacDonald
“Ron Hatch is a brilliant man and a tireless publisher. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him and I consider myself lucky to be one of his Ronsdale authors. I am thankful for the endless patience of Ron Hatch and I am confident that he will not let me put a book on the shelves that isn’t worthy. I am thankful for the honesty and integrity he brings to the world of publishing.” — Lois Donovan
“I want to thank Ron for publishing such a beautiful new edition of Steveston in 2001. He had Steveston printed on high-quality paper with a generous amount of white space (qualities that are hard to find these days). This has been the third edition of our book and this is not only the authoritative version but certainly the most beautiful of all three editions.” — Daphne Marlatt
“Ron has done a lovely job of getting my first four books back in print and on the shelves (with meticulous copy-editing and great covers). All correspondence with him or his employees during the process has been interesting, and in the end very satisfying. Every time the latest Ronsdale catalogue arrives I’m impressed all over again with this important publishing house.” — Jack Hodgins
“I found gold when Ron Hatch decided to publish my poetry manuscript. His integrity, high standards, his never-failing support and encouragement of my work and the perpetual twinkle in his eye are everything a budding author could dream of. Ron Hatch is my ideal publisher. He has a discriminating eye for the beautiful book cover utterly fitting to the work, is a meticulous editor and a proud papa of every new book he sends out into the world. I will be thankful to Ron for the rest of my life for taking me on as one of his authors. What luck! The stars must have been swirling in my favour when I thought to send my manuscript to him.” — Pamela Porter
“Having worked with Ron for over seven years now, I can say Ron is simply the man with the most integrity, professionalism and kindness all wrapped into one that I have ever known. I’m sure others feel the same. He is a role model with real class.” — Philip Roy
“I am grateful to Ron for publishing my Rilke translations. ‘Let earth sing within the poem!’” — Graham Good
“I consider it an honour to have collaborated with this wonderful man on four books.” — Howard Richler
“Ron is a gentleman and a scholar, wonderful to work with, honest and just. Back in October, 2007, Ron received a sample of my manuscript. Other publishers might have taken some time to write back asking for the full manuscript, but he called. On the phone. Right away. He said, “if the rest isn’t crap, I’ll publish it.” And when I sent the rest, he called again. It was December by then, and he said, “I don’t want to leave you worrying and wondering over Christmas, so yes, we’ll publish your book.” He did so, beautifully, and on time. Editing the manuscript with him was fun and challenging. I was so lucky (and so grateful) that he published my book. We are so lucky to have Ronsdale Press continuing to publish important and diverse books at a time when everyone is worrying about independent presses. — Barbara Pelman
“It was a cloudy afternoon in 2010 when I received the message on my answering machine from Ron. It said, “We would very much like to publish your book.” I listened to it twenty-three times. Little did I know what lay ahead. New to the publishing world, and more than a little green around the ears, I remember enjoying a glass of wine and naively assuming: “Right. That’s it, then. Now it’s on to the next book.” What followed after that initial phone call, were several in-depth conversations, many emails and numerous hard copies of my manuscript that crossed back and forth across the water. I didn’t know what to expect from Ron. I didn’t know what “the norm” was, if in fact there was one. I didn’t know how long these things were supposed to take, and I didn’t know how ignorant I was. What I did know, however, was that I should have paid more attention to grammar classes back in elementary school.
“Upon reflection, it’s a wonder Ron didn’t demand I re-do some English courses before deciding to take me on. I definitely needed to get in touch with my inner dangling participle. And don’t even get me started on semi-colons! But Ron and Veronica walked me through the minefield that was my manuscript, paragraph by pronoun by predicate, with perseverance and plenty of patience. Fortunately, my spelling was pretty good…. I am so grateful to have worked with Ron from the get-go. Ron is a first-class editor. He is sometimes blunt, often dry, and always spot on. He does not mince words and he never gushes: when you receive a “nicely done,” you know you’ve done it nicely.
“When I finally met the Hatches in person, I was delighted. Ron was wearing a hairy old sweater with patches on the elbows, and both he and Veronica said really nice things about their dogs.” — Carol Anne Shaw
“It is terribly sad. Ron was the kindest man I ever met. He had such a strong character and yet the deepest and truest humility. I remember we took some trips together to book shows, and we’d sight-see afterwards, such as the day we examined the spot where Kennedy was shot, or when we scoured every inch of an aircraft carrier in San Diego. Ron had an insatiable and childlike curiosity about everything, and he was tireless. He was eminently professional, of course, but it was his kindness that always came to mind first when thinking of him. He will be so dearly missed by so many, and yet his legacy is rock solid in the work he and Veronica did together, a true beacon in the literary culture of Canada. Terribly sad, but I suppose we have to be grateful for having known him at all. Such friends are far more rare than people know. – Philip Roy
“My sympathies go out to Ronnie and all of Ron’s family and close friends. I had the pleasure of having my life enriched by my dealings with Ron through his publications of several of my books. May his memory be a blessing.” — Howard Richler
“Ron Hatch was my publisher/editor for several books. He was also a dear friend. I loved working with him and I owe him a debt for his tireless efforts on behalf of all his writers, for his really keen editing skills, and his support and friendship. I am very sad and I wish Ronsdale Press only the best.” — Luanne Armstrong
“Ron took a chance on me and published my book of short stories. Our last conversation was on my new novel—he always provided frank and helpful advice—and I’m still working on it. I remember visiting Ron and Veronica in Vancouver and being so moved by their love. Feeling sad and sending condolences to all who were influenced, supported, and touched by this amazing man.” — Sheila James
“Today we received a double blow with the deaths of literary giant Marie-Claire Blais, a dear friend and collaborator, and Vancouver publisher Ronald Hatch, also a friend and colleague, who published the first two of many translations I have done for Marie-Claire Blais and others. He has done much to promote Canadian literature in unique fashion. They represent a quality and stature in Canadian and Québec writing that may never be equalled. Adieu et farewell to them both.” — Nigel G. Spencer
“When Dan and I sent an unsolicited manuscript to Ronsdale, Veronica saw potential but Ron asked, “How hard are you willing to work?” Over the following months, we laughed as numerous drafts were exchanged between Vancouver and Ottawa and reminded one another that Ron had given us ‘heads up.’ He was equally devoted to ensuring that our second book was as good as it could be. St Michael’s Residential School: Lament & Legacy was published this June after more than a year of review and rewriting. We will always remember Ron’s kindness and caring. In 2018, we had the pleasure of meeting Ron and Veronica at a book fair in Tacoma, Washington. Ron said he liked Rebecca, the heroine of our first book, because she had agency, a quality he wanted to promote in young people. Ron himself had agency and plenty of it. Working with him was a privilege. We are grateful for his gift; we have found direction and meaning as published authors in our eighth decade. We send heart-felt sympathy to Veronica and the other members of the Hatch family.” — Nancy Dyson and Dan Rubenstein
“Ron was a gentle bear of a man—whose strong beliefs never stopped him from engaging with others. An enthusiastic publisher, especially of BC writers, he was also a friend, always ready to help, advise, and appreciate a moment of relaxed laughter. I loved publishing with Ronsdale Press because Ron was such a fine editor—scrupulous with text and sensitive to the demands of each project, always keeping the readership in mind. I admired his independence, appreciated his patience, and was stirred by his commitment to the world in which we live. What a remarkable contribution he made to life, letters, and thought in British Columbia. He is already much missed.” — Bill New
“I was deeply saddened to hear of Ron’s passing. Ron was always kind, thoughtful, and supportive but also meticulous in his crafting of fine books. I shall always be thankful for his publishing of my volume of poetry, At the Mercy Seat. What a loss to us all.” – Susan McCaslin
“When a good and wise man dies…a library burns down. Ron of course had the good sense to build and leave us all a great library. It was and is no small achievement. I like so many others am grateful for his help in steering my work to publication. My sincerest condolences to his family.” — F.B. André
“What sad news! For me, it was a privilege and a pleasure to be an author with Ronsdale Press. Now my thoughts are very much with his wife and family.” — Eileen Kernaghan
“Ronsdale published my book Heart Like a Wing in 2016. Veronica picked my ms. out of the 800-odd submissions they get each year and gave it to Ron. They both liked the story. Ron helped me turn it into a polished YA novel. I am so very fortunate to have found a man of Ron’s integrity and literary skills. We worked together for two months before he even asked me to sign a contract. Ron and Veronica both came to my book launch in Sidney, for which I am so very grateful. He was unfailingly kind and encouraging. I’ve never forgotten Ron’s big heart. I’ve no doubt that everyone who met him feels the same way. We will all miss him.” — Dan Dunaway
“He was an amazing man. The BC literary community will miss him.” — Byron Sheardown
“His reach was clearly far greater than I had ever imagined. He will be sorely missed by so many. I am truly appreciative of what he published with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. He was clearly remarkable.” – Robert Krell
“I am truly saddened to hear of the passing of Ron. Ron took a chance on me in publishing my books when so many others had rejected me in the writing world. I will never forget that, and I wished I had thanked him while he was alive. To his wife and children, I send my sincerest condolences.” — Garry Gottfriedson
“Ron was a pillar of support and encouragement to my late wife, Inge Israel, in her early publishing efforts. She would have been very saddened, as am I, by news of his passing.” — Werner Israel
“Ron was an honourable man, decent and without pretension. I’ve read the fine obit done for him and I started making a list of the books he’d published that affected me. These have included Graham Good’s Rilke translations, his own co-translations of three books of Korean poetry that I reviewed at length, Richard Wagamese’s Runaway Dreams (probably the book that really put Richard on the map), the Jean Coulthard biography, Ron Smith’s brilliantly-presented stroke memoir The Defiant Mind and Service on the Skeena, the Ryga Award book on B.C.’s north. As well, Moon Madness by Alan Twigg is a wonderful tribute to a real humanitarian. These are all testaments to his admirable life. His good work has influenced me. When I attended meetings with him, he was a steadying force, just by his presence. The ranks of the just are thinner for his departure.” – Trevor Carolan
“I owe Ron a debt of gratitude, for taking a chance on me. In 2019 Ronsdale Press published my first novel. I was incredibly honoured, and truly excited to have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to be guided by him through the editing/publishing process. I still remember that sparkle in his eye when he slid my contract across his dining room table, it was stacked high with writers’ manuscript’s––just waiting to be read. RIP Ron and thank you for making my writing dream come true.” — Heige S. Boehm
“Five years ago, my husband asked me: Do you know someone named Ron? I said: No, I don’t know any Ron. He says he would like to publish your manuscript. All I remember of the next several minutes is that I kept saying Yes and Yes and Yes. When I visited Ron in his home in Vancouver for a final editing session, he first showed me upstairs to say hello to Megan, his sharp-eyed proofreader. Books lined the walls going up the stairs, books lined the walls in that workroom, stacks of books sat stored in boxes on the floor. How could one not feel at home in such surroundings? It was a place—how to put it—in full flourish. Then Ron and I sat in his living room, the room shrinking into a small beautiful bubble of contemplative quiet as we carefully went over the entire manuscript. Many months later my first book of poems, Collecting Silence, was in my hands, a highlight of my life. The book will forever link me with these special moments. I will always be so very grateful.” — Ulrike Narwani
“I used to marvel at him riding his bike from Dunbar, where my wife or I used to babysit the Hatch kids as part of the Dunbar branch of the UBC Babysitting Pool Co-operative. Ron would ride to UBC in his rough and often mucky cycling gear, then go up to his office and change into his nice clean English professor’s clothes, which waited for him on hangers behind the office door. In his next change, he donned the clouts of a publisher by taking over the body of literature in Cacanadadada Press and establishing Ronsdale Press. Now, he wears the invisible suit of life’s great mystery. Like many men of long-lived marriages, he grew more and more uxorious with the enduring support of Veronica, who was there, providing the other half of everything, no matter what togs Ron put on: the outdoorsman’s, the academic’s, the publisher’s or just those of the most wry and kindly curious man I have ever met. Dunbar won’t be the same without its chronicler, and I will miss him leaning over to ask, “What are you up to now, George?” — George McWhirter
- Friend and fellow publisher Michael Carroll first met Ron Hatch in early 2000 shortly after he [Carroll] took over BeachHolme Publishing. He once recalled, “We met up at book fairs, ACP meetings, and of course ABPBC events. I recall one ABPBC retreat in particular on Gabriola Island. About halfway through, there was a massive snowstorm that knocked out the power on a good deal of Gabriola. As always Ron seemed outwardly tranquil while I noticeably fretted. He was a living embodiment of grace under pressure. Power failure? Freezing temperatures and no heat? So much snow that we might never get off the island? ‘What’s the problem?’ Ron might have said, smiling serenely. ‘Look at all the trees, the sea, plenty of good food even if we can’t cook it, and an endless supply of good books to read. What more could you want?’” — Michael Carroll, BeachHolme Publishing
- A few year’s ago, publisher Brian Lam paid tribute to his colleague, Ron Hatch: “I was around when poet J. Michael Yates started a poetry press in the mid-1980s with the beguiling name of Cacanadadada Press. Michael was and is a larger-than-life character in Canadian literature, but I think he’d agree that he wasn’t an expert in the business of publishing, so when Ron bought the press and renamed it the more sensible ‘Ronsdale Press,’ we among his B.C. colleagues knew he was on the right track. Whereas Michael was loud and outlandish, Ron possesses a calm and thoughtful demeanor that comes in handy as Ronsdale Press navigates the vagaries of literary publishing in Canada with aplomb. Ronsdale is an important publishing house in B.C. and Ron Hatch is a worthy and significant publisher.” — Brian Lam, Arsenal Pulp Press
- “I did a few publishing internships with Ron at Ronsdale Press when starting my own press on Vancouver Island. I really appreciated Ron’s kind and giving nature when mentoring me into the world of book publishing. One thing that really impressed me was the special care and attention he gave to submission rejections: It was apparent he was genuinely sorry, and he always took the time to impart at least a few lines of positive critique with the rejection. Ron and Veronica created a publishing company that truly has heart…something I have tried to emulate.” — Lori Shwydky, Rebel Mountain Press
- “Ron was a good friend. He was always a kind, generous and gentle soul and will be missed in the world of publishing and in life. I will miss his sparkling smile. Ron Hatch has left behind an important legacy.” — Richard Olafson, Ekstasis Editions
- “Ron was a good friend and valued colleague. Sadly missed by all at Tradewind.” — Michael Katz, Tradewind Books
A Life, in Brief
Ronald B. Hatch completed his PhD at the University of Edinburgh in 1969, with a dissertation on eighteenth century social history and the poetry of George Crabbe. He subsequently published a book on George Crabbe (Crabbe’s Arabesque: Social Drama in the Poetry of George Crabbe) and numerous articles on the literature of the eighteenth century. His reviews and articles for Canadian Literature often focussed on works by Mavis Gallant or Margaret Atwood. He joined the UBC English Department in 1969 as Assistant Professor and became Associate Professor in 1974. In 1979-80, he was Visiting Professor at Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany. In 1989-90 he was Visiting Professor at the University of Erlangen/Nuremberg. And again in 1997, he was invited to be Visiting Professor at the University of Chemnitz, where he introduced a program in Canadian Studies.
Conversant in German, Ron Hatch has also co-translated a number of Korean poetry books, including Sowol Kim’s Fugitive Dreams, and Yong-un Han’s Love’s Silence. Ronsdale Press has maintained a varied mandate ranging from history and the environment to fiction and poetry, as well as children’s literature edited by Veronica Hatch. Many of the press’s juvenile novels unabashedly address serious historical issues and political turmoil.
Ron Hatch was born on November 12, 1939 in what is now called Thunder Bay, Ontario, formerly known as Fort William before 1970. He met Veronica at the University of British Columbia and they were married in Comox by Veronica’s father, Christopher Lonsdale, an Anglican priest.
Ron Hatch is survived by his wife Veronica, his brother Bruce, sons Christopher (Tzeporah Berman) and Kevin (Alannah Hatch) and grandchildren Forrest, Quinn, Cameron, James, and Ian.