Oxford Icon Ron ‘Ronzo’ Shapiro Dies at Age 75

By Talbert Toole, Alyssa Schnugg
Lifestyles Editor, News Editor
talbert.toole@hottytoddy.com
alyssa.schnugg@hottytoddy.com

Ron Shapiro died at 75 years old Monday after battling cancer. Photo by Adam Hohenberg.

Oxford resident Ron Shapiro, or better known as “Ronzo”, died Monday after losing his battle to liver cancer.

He was 75 years old.

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Ronzo moved to Oxford in the early 70s.

Shapiro opened the Hoka in 1975.
Photo by Allen Blumberg

Shapiro was known in the LOU community as the former owner of The Hoka Theatre—bohemian coffeehouse/movie theater, named after the Chickasaw princess who had once owned the land that would become Oxford. He ran the popular entertainment venue from 1975 to 1996.

A veteran of the U.S. Army, Shapiro loved life, loved his country and loved Oxford. In 2006 he ran for Mississippi House District 12 and in 2011, he ran for Mississippi’s First Congressional District because of that love.

“Here in Mississippi, we consistently rank near the bottom in every important category; health care, education, and household income. That must change … The saddest thing is, this doesn’t need to be the case. Mississippi deserves better than this. We’ve had enough,” Shapiro wrote on his blog in 2006. “This is about making America an even better place, and taking care of the people who live here, no matter of their race, religion, gender, or economic class. We’re all in this together, and it’s obvious: We’ve all had enough.”

Shapiro also ran for the Oxford Board of Aldermen in 1989 and 2013.

SoLost: Ronzo! Oxford’s Peripatetic Pied Piper of Good Times

Anyone who’s spent more than 15 minutes in Oxford, Mississippi, has probably heard of local legend Ron Shapiro. Now known simply as “Ronzo,” this ever-upbeat and unpredictable local icon has, to say the least, a colorful history.

Melanie Addington, executive director of the Oxford Film Festival, said she knew Ronzo longer than most of the people in her life. Addington met Ronzo when she was just 15 years old.

“He was always just a positive influence,” Addington said. “He always supported me in Oxford.”


Video courtesy of Joe York.

Shapiro had a true love for art and the LOU community, Addington said. Ronzo opened the Hoka Theatre in 1976. The theatre was known as a bohemian coffeehouse/movie theatre before closing in 1996. Addington said Ronzo tried to bring the spirit of Hoka back to Oxford in 2009 with the opening Main Squeeze—a juice/smoothie bar that has since closed.

Addington said at the 2020 Oxford Film Festival, the festival plans to honor Shapiro.

“For Oxford, particularly “old” Oxford, as well as three generations of Ole Miss students, the passing of Ron Shapiro is a heartfelt loss,” said Oxford historian John Cofield. “Much more than a cafe owner, a theater operator, a political candidate, and entertainer, he was part of the town’s soul. Irreplaceable, he will always be remembered with a smile for as long as Oxford’s history is kept alive.”
 
Ron “Ronzo” Shapiro
Photo by Gaetano Catelli

Mayor Robyn Tannehill told Hottytoddy.com she met Shapiro in 1988 when she first arrived in Oxford as a freshman at Ole Miss.

She said Shapiro taught her many life lessons over their 30-year friendship.

“A Love at First Bite sandwich and piece of Hoka fudge pie could cure almost anything,” Tannehill said.

Tannehill said if you see something you think needs changing, change it and never stop trying to leave this place better than you found it, in regards to Shapiro.

“I’m not sure any Oxford resident has affected the arts and culture community that put Oxford, Mississippi on the map more than Ron Shapiro,” she said. “He will be missed but his legacy will live on.”


4 COMMENTS

  1. The dates that he ran for Alderman at Large are inaccurate -call Bill baker but I think one was 1999. Other than that -good article !

  2. Ron, RIP!!!!!!!! You were the most interesting and unique gentleman I ever met…..Next to, Prince Mongo….You have joined one of my great friends and yours as well, Rene Lamb, in the big sky!!!! You will be missed….
    Kathy Black

  3. He did leave his own mark wherever he traveled. I had the pleasure of graduating with him and after hearing about his death referred to our 1962 class year book to read up on his high school activities and noted the saying that was attached under his name “Of my own life I am an Emperor”. That says it all.

    alan schaffer

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