Colleague of the Week: Ron McFarland

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As a former football coach, Ron McFarland is used to losing sometimes and dealing with it. “You need to move onto the next game,” he says.


Ron, who leans strongly Republican, is constitutionally wired to have a positive attitude about things. Which is just part of what makes him such an asset to Braver Angels. Retiring recently to Ames, Iowa – his wife’s hometown – he is deeply committed to the organization and active on many fronts.


Starting right at home, he is working to infuse new energy in the Ames Braver Angels Alliance which has struggled to cohere during Covid, as have many other alliances nationwide. (Part of his push is help recruit new leadership for the group.) Crossing state lines, he has moderated Braver Angels workshops, been a Red panelist at an event co-hosted by the Climate Change Lobby, and gotten involved with the Central Texas alliance’s studies of media bias and how to deal constructively with it. Nationwide, he has played a master-of-ceremonies role in Bill Doherty’s Families and Politics webinars.


Ron is also forging connections with other groups, such as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Iowa State University (OLLI at ISU). A curriculum board member there, Ron helps find classes to engage retired people; he has gotten Braver Angels to present two of those classes, and expects to help organize more.


Put simply: Ron is everywhere and all at once, helping advance the Braver Angels agenda wherever and however he can. “I’m always trying to get people to become Braver Angels members,” he says. He has become known across the organization as a go-to guy, and as a result, has often helped draft attendees for events – particularly those who lean Red. “I fill in with what I call the fans in the stands,” he grins.


An active member of the organization’s People of Color Caucus, Ron has connected with influential BA leaders such as Carlos Hernandez in California. He recalls the Caucus’ presentation of the movie “Black Boys” where everyone appearing on the Zoom event was of color – and were both Reds and Blues. Ron wants to see many more such events and will be lending his voice to help the People of Color Caucus to meet regularly – maybe monthly. “Maybe even a couple of times each month,” he says.


But Ron makes what is probably his greatest impact because he brings a thoughtful, persuasive voice, grounded in his extensive reading, to every discussion. “I talk a lot,” he smiles, before turning serious: “I try to speak in a “we” type of voice, not a “me” voice – giving my voice without a tribal echo.” That often means provocative but respectful questions, as was the case when he was a panelist on the discussion of climate change.


As it does for many members, Braver Angels provides Ron with personal comfort and support in a time of deep division nationwide. He came to the organization not long after a serious disagreement with a nephew – and he came with his own personal biases. “The organization has helped me because I used to be an “I” person,” he says. “It helped me focus more not on “I” or “you” but “us.” “


When he is not helping promote Braver Angels’ ideals and activities, Ron volunteers with a local hospice and is on the board of a home association in Ames. As a teacher in Denver public schools for 30 years, teaching business classes and computer classes among other subjects, and as a coach of wrestling and track as well as football for almost as long, Ron stays close to the academic arena. He mentors the ISU football team – something of a homecoming because he himself played football at Iowa State from 1973 to 1977 and was chosen as an All-American for the 1976-1977 seasons.


In the great game of depolarization, though, Ron has much more to contribute. He’ll keep pushing toward the goal line on a national level, doing what he can to shift the perception among many Reds that Braver Angels is tinged too Blue for their liking. But it’s on the local level where he’s likely to score touchdowns. “Great ideas come from local communities up, not from the top down,” he says. “To excel even more, we have to show excellence at the local level.”


Well said, Ron. That’s some powerful positive thinking right there.

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