Ron Gilbert, Miami’s ‘Grandfather of Tourism,’ dies

Ron Gilbert, Miami’s ‘Grandfather of Tourism,’ dies

Dr. Ron Gilbert, the driving force behind the establishment of the Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and a longtime civic leader, passed away here Sunday.

MIAMI — The “Grandfather of Tourism” in Miami has died.

Dr. Ron Gilbert, the driving force behind the establishment of the Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and a longtime civic leader, passed away here Sunday.

“I wouldn’t be here — or none of us would be here — if it wasn’t for his vision,” said Amanda Davis, executive director of the Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and director of tourism for the City of Miami. “He definitely was a pioneer. We lost a pioneer.”

Until he got sick a couple of months ago, Davis said Gilbert would stop by the office daily to touch base with what was going on or if there was anything he could help out with.

Davis said Gilbert would go door-to-door to gain support of the sales tax that helps pay for the CVB.

“He kept telling people what it would do and what it would bring,” Davis said. “If they weren’t there, he would leave a door hanger. He worked it and worked it and worked it. I can’t tell you how many times where he said ‘I wasn’t going to stop until I knew we had enough votes.”

He also was a big supporter of the overhaul of Red Robertson Field.

“He was really proud of that stadium,” Davis said. “He loved Miami. He would absolutely sacrifice whatever it took if it meant that our community was going to be better.”

The Oklahoma Eight Man Football Coaches Association all-star football game was the first big event snagged by the then-new CVB in 2003

“That will not only be a loss for the Miami community but for the eight-man association no doubt, losing a tremendous supporter like that,” said OEMFCA executive director Mike Thompson. “He had a tough job. A lot of people didn’t understand that you really have to spend a little money in order to get people in to spend more money.

“He definitely was an advocate for all these improvements that have taken place in Miami just since we started bringing the game there (in 2003) — not due to the game, but with the number of motel rooms and things available now for our people to utilize.”

Gilbert was inducted into the Oklahoma Eight Man Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in June 2015 as a special contributor.

“I feel so fortunate that I got to get re-acquainted with Ron,” said Miami city manager Dean Kruithof, who had known Gilbert from his time on the Miami Board of Education. “Working with Ron since I’ve been back has been nothing but a pure joy. He had such a good demeanor about him. He cared so much about this community.

“He was a backbone — he had a vision.”

Gilbert was the recipient of the Miami Area Chamber of Commerce Impact Award in 2016.

That’s the MACC’s top honor.

“Dr. Ron Gilbert has given tirelessly to his patients and the community since moving to Miami over 50 years ago,” said former MACC executive director Michele Bolton. “He and Ann (his wife of 59 years) have been a dynamic duo when it comes to helping local organizations and giving their time so selflessly.

“His absence will leave a huge hole in the hearts who loved him dearly.”

Gilbert also was a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow and one of Jaycees’ Ten Outstanding Young Oklahomans.

Gilbert moved to Miami from Sallisaw in 1960 to establish a dental practice. He became a tireless contributor to numerous causes.

Gilbert was co-chair of the Miami 100th anniversary celebration committee with his good friend, Willie Osborn. He also played a role in the Miami 125th bash in 2015.

“Dr. Gilbert as one of the first community leaders to make my family and I feel right at home in Miami,” said Northeastern Oklahoma A&M president Dr. Jeff Hale. “He loved his hometown and did all he could to make Miami a great place to live, work, go to school and play”

Gilbert was a member of the Miami Rotary Club since 1963, serving as its president, secretary, and treasurer.

He was a member of First United Methodist Church, where he served in numerous positions on the local church board, sang in the chancel choir and was a substitute organist. Gilbert also served in many positions with the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“He was a very important member of the church and the community and made an impact wherever he went,” said First United Methodist Pastor Mark Rickman. “You don’t use the term a lot anymore about someone being a pillar of the church, but Ron was one here.”

Gilbert also was a member of the Friends of the Coleman, Friends of the Miami Public Library, Ottawa County Historical Society, Oklahoma Junior Miss, Inc., and the City of Miami Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee.

“Dr. Ron Gilbert always had a kindness and a sweet attitude,” said Larry Roberts, a former Oklahoma state representative and president of the Ottawa County Historical Society. “He was involved in the community after establishing residence in Miami and continued to do so in spite of failing health. I had the pleasure of working with him on several boards and committees.”

Gilbert was a longtime supporter of the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M football and basketball booster clubs.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Gilbert family,” said NEO athletic director Dale Patterson. “Dr. Gilbert was a great supporter of NEO athletics and the City of Miami. He will be missed.”

The family will receive friends from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22 at the First United Methodist Church of Miami.

A celebration of Gilbert’s life will be held at the church at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23.