5th Oct, 2002
A famous concert pianist who was confined to a wheelchair died Friday in an early morning fire in North Port.
Fire officials say Ronald J. Rogers, 65, was found next to his bed in his home at 6498 Fabian Road and believe his disability prevented him from getting out of the house.
Rogers suffered from multiple sclerosis for 35 years and lived by himself after his mother, Lois, passed away a year ago. He was believed to be an only child who studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. He went on to study under the tutelage of world-class pianists and also taught in Germany.
As of Friday evening, the cause of the fire had not been determined. Officials are also waiting for an autopsy report to determine how Rogers died.
Jeanette Murphy, owner of Murphy's Restaurant in Biscayne Plaza, said Rogers was a regular customer at her eatery for the past two years. He started wheeling to her restaurant after Murphy made several deliveries to his home.
Murphy said she encouraged Rogers to leave his home and come to the restaurant to eat and meet people instead of staying home all the time, especially since she knew he performed in front of hundreds of people in the past. Murphy jokingly said her suggestion worked too well, as Rogers battled rainy conditions to wheel to the restaurant, she said.
"He was in Thursday night for supper," said Murphy, who offered her restaurant to Rogers in March for a birthday dinner and party. "He loved to talk. He spent hours at the restaurant talking to the locals. He was funny, too. He gave me so many compliments and I would say, 'What do you want? Cut to the chase.' Then he would say that he was sincere about the compliments."
Murphy learned Rogers was a talented pianist who studied at Juilliard and spoke of receiving letters from musician Winifred Wagner. Wagner, the wife of Richard Wagner, was a friend of Adolf Hitler. She shared German culture and contemporary history with Rogers.
He also studied with Adele Marcus, who at 71 is still playing and teaching piano, and performed under the guidance of Rosita Lavine and Van Cliburn. The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition brings together 30 young musicians from around the world and offers cash rewards.
However, Rogers was forced to quit performing after his MS created nerve damage.
"Ron was talking about how he wished he could meet someone who spoke German because he studied music in Germany," Murphy said. "This week he did. He found a lady who learned the language. He was looking forward to his long conversations, but this time, in German."
Rogers' friend commented about how he only used the left side of the road.
"We called him Wrong Way Ron because he didn't like to use the sidewalk to wheel on," Murphy said. "We couldn't figure out how he would make it over the bridge on Biscayne (Drive) near his home but he always did."
Murphy said Rogers never bragged about being a musician but enjoyed talking about his experiences.
North Port Fire Rescue contained the fire by 5:52 a.m. after receiving a cell-phone call at 5:30 a.m. from a passing motorist who saw smoke billowing from the house.
"The majority of the fire was in the front bedroom where the victim was found," said Interim Fire Chief Howard Bearse. "The fire and smoke damage was estimated at $35,000 to $50,000."
Two engines, two rescue vehicles, one ladder truck and two command vehicles
with 14 personnel and the North Port Police Department responded to the
call. In addition to city personnel, state fire inspector Kurt Lathrop
and a K-9 were on the scene to inspected the home for accelerants.
© 2002, Sun Coast Media Group Inc