Friends remembered Ronald A. Catena as a humorist and playboy. The acting president for SAGE of South Florida, Catena succumbed to cancer Aug. 3 at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale. He was 78.
“I will miss his wonderful sense of humor and friendship,” said Carl Barton, a fellow SAGE member and Fort Lauderdale resident. “We worked very well together on many SAGE programs. Ron was the comedian a lot of the times. He had so many funny facial expressions.”
Born in Boston, Catena worked for the city’s water department before retiring to Fort Lauderdale. He was instrumental in creating SAGE’s men’s drop-in group – a Wednesday afternoon gathering at the Pride Center where guys would share stories and cultivate friendships.
At the time of his death Catena was serving as president for SAGE of South Florida. The group’s acronym stands for “senior action in a gay environment” and includes men and women members.
“Ron Catena was such a unifying force for SAGE,” wrote Patti Lynn in a Facebook post. “This is truly devastating. You were and are loved.”
Catena’s quick wit could often turn a conversation or mood of the room, Barton said. For that he had many friends and, also, the occasional nemesis.
“You either loved Ron or did not, but most of us loved him,” Barton said.
Carl M. Galli and Catena were friends for 35 years. Galli, president emeritus for SAGE of South Florida, said Catena had an “outsized personality.”
“Sometimes his humor was a little irreverent,” Galli said. “When he got me going it was hard to stop laughing. He was known for that. He could diffuse a serious discussion with his humor and get people to see the other side.”
Catena was not married and leaves behind no partner, Galli said.
“One could say Ron had many friends,” Galli said. “He liked to go to the Boardwalk, but Ron didn’t drink so he didn’t go to the Boardwalk to get drunk.”
Catena’s body was flown to Boston where he was given a traditional Catholic funeral and buried in the family plot alongside his mother and father, Galli said. Locally, Catena will be remembered for his love of shopping, a closet full of colorful shirts, fondness for Birkenstock sandals and quiet generosity.
“Ron thought that volunteering should be fun and he tried to make our volunteers feel as important as our board members,” Galli said. “It was for this reason that he often paid their way out of his pocket to events they might not be able to afford.”