“None of us is as good as all of us,” believes Ronne Froman-Blue. “If you put together a strong team, if you empower them to be the best they can be, you can do so much more than you could do individually.”
When speaking with Ronne, she often uses the word “we” instead of “I” when referring to major accomplishments. Ronne knows a lot about teams; being a part of them, building them, and leading them. She retired as one of the highest-ranking officers, a two-star admiral, from the United States Navy. In 1970, she joined as a general unrestricted line officer with a two-year commitment and told herself she would stay as long as she was having fun.
“At the time I joined the Navy, there were no women admirals, no women on ships, no women flying planes, they couldn’t get to ROTC, couldn’t go to the Naval Academy – I have seen a lot of change,” she shared.
Throughout her military career, Ronne was part of making change happen. She was the first female commanding officer of Charleston Naval Station, the then third-largest naval station in the world. While in transit from Washington D.C. to Charleston, she heard on the radio that her new duty station was named for base closure. No one had told her.
“I walked in, and everyone was shell-shocked,” she recalled.” We had to keep the base running, and I picked people to help build a plan to close down the base in two years. We had to find places for our civilians to go, move ships, and move out our military. It was a major change.”
Recognized for her ability to turn chaos into order, Ronne was given the handle “The Fixer” from fellow sailors in the aviation world. She went on to become the first woman to serve as commander of the United States Navy Region Southwest, also referred to as “Navy Mayor of San Diego.”
“Before I got to San Diego, all the different parts of the base reported to different parts of the Navy,” Ronne disclosed. “My job was to take all of these parts and create one region. It was an interesting challenge. We did it. That model was taken nationwide. It is the model that is still being used today.”
Ronne finished out her naval career with a final tour in Washington D.C. as a rear admiral in charge of all the Navy stations in the world. During active duty, Ronne was honored with the U.S. Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal and the United States Navy Distinguished Service Medal.
“Year 30, I stopped having fun,” she smirked. “I’d hit a glass ceiling, and so I filed my divorce papers and luckily got a move back to San Diego. It has been a wonderful town to have a second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth career in.”
She’s not kidding. After a 31-year career in the military, Ronne joined the San Diego Unified School District as the chief of business operations. Her job was to modernize the backroom functions of the school district.
“I got there in 2001, and they still had their inventory cards like the ones you see in libraries – there were warehouses full of these cards,” she shrugged. “We computerized all that and created a computer system for teachers to be able to keep their grade logs. We set up a whole new information technology system for the school district. It was fun.”
While Ronne was working at the school district, the Red Cross was having trouble. She stepped in as the CEO of the San Diego Imperial Counties Chapter of the American Red Cross.
“In 2002, the National Red Cross had fired the local board; it had never happened in the history of the Red Cross before,” Ronne explained. “Donations weren’t coming in; they were deeply in debt. I joined in May 2003. We didn’t have enough money for payroll the following month.”
With her guidance, things began to move along. Then the devastating Southern California wildfires hit in October.
“Our chapter here was the size that could handle about three shelters,” she declared. “At one point during the fires, we had 11 shelters open. Three of them had to move three times. The fires kept going in different directions. It was quite the experience. We were not only fighting for the life of the American Red Cross; we were fighting for the lives of many people here in San Diego. It was a double whammy, but we did it.”
Ronne used her expertise to help create plans and processes and put them in place so that different parts of the community would all work together during a fire. She was instrumental in the rebirth of the American Red Cross, which is now thriving.
“At the time I worked with the American Red Cross, the chairman of the board was Jerry Sanders,” Ronne enlightened. “When Dick Murphy resigned, Jerry said to me, ‘Are you running for Mayor, or am I running for Mayor?’ I told him, I’m not running for anything even if someone is chasing me. If you run, I will help you any way that I can. Thus I spent a couple of years at City Hall.”
Sanders appointed her as the first chief operating officer for the City of San Diego. With her help, the City overcame extreme financial challenges.
“The City was going bankrupt,” Ronne exclaimed. “The team there brought the City back, and that was quite the adventure.”
She stayed for the two years she had promised to Jerry. She admits it was all she could handle for politics. She embarked upon her fifth career as a change agent to the senior vice president for energy (SVPE) at General Atomics.
“I went there because there were some management issues,” she clarified. “I had gone there to work with the SVPE, and then a few things happened, and he left the company. I went to my boss and asked. ‘What would you like me to do now?’ I was supposed to be helping him. He told me I was the new SVPE. I am not a nuclear scientist. I am not a physicist. I told him I would put all the stuff in place that we were going to do anyway and I would help hire the person that would be coming in to relieve me. We put all the project management in place, and I stayed there for about three years. I was retired after that.”
Not very good at being retired, Ronne became the CEO of Monarch School Project, a K-12 school for homeless in downtown San Diego and went on to start two non-profits. As a veteran herself, when she recognized the need in the community to help veterans transition from military life to the civilian world, she felt called to act.
“I had trouble transitioning,” she confided. “People laugh at me when I say that, but I did. In the service, you are told what to do, how to dress, where to be, how to act – you understand that whole structure. Then you are thrown into the civilian world, and a lot of people struggle.”
As the CEO of REBOOT, a veterans transitioning program, Ronne helps fellow veterans.
“REBOOT is a three-week training program. It has been very successful and I am very proud of it,” Ronne beams.
Still, Ronne felt REBOOT wasn’t reaching everyone that needed help. She asked what the community needed as far as transition assistance during a community planning project.
“Out of that bloomed Zero8Hundred, an organization that helps those who are still in the military for about a year while they are getting ready to transition,” she smiled. “REBOOT is for people that have already gotten out of the military and hit the skids, and we pick them back up. It is a totally different kind of help; same kind of clients but a different kind of help. I am very proud of that.”
Ronne hope is that every person coming out of the military has direct access to a program that will help them find their way and understand their strengths and weaknesses.
“For the homeless veterans – my dream is that we would have housing for every single one -any vet in San Diego that needs housing and care, that it will be there for them,” Ronne emphasizes. “Some of the older vets that are sick and have issues – they need a place to be able to take care of them until they pass, and with dignity. All these folks have given their oath to protect our country, and we should be treating them with respect. “
Ronne shared her passion for helping veterans during a conversation over lunch with fellow Rotarian, Cheryl Wilson, CEO of St. Paul’s Senior Services. She challenged Cheryl to find ways to help.
“I’m really impressed that Cheryl had taken on the challenge I had given her, to do more for veterans,” Ronne confessed. “I’m really impressed with what St. Paul’s has done.”
When Cheryl asked Ronne, who donates time as Chair of the USS Midway Museum Board and on the US Bank Advisory Board, to be the LUV Gala honoree, Ronne humbly accepted. The proceeds of the gala benefit Alzheimer’s care. Two years ago, Ronne’s mom passed away with Alzheimer’s.
“It is very hard to watch your loved one; she wasn’t there for a long time, and we didn’t realize why. It was a while before she was diagnosed. We didn’t have Mom for probably 20 years when I look back,” Ronne revealed.
Ronne’s father, a WWII veteran, cared for her mother until he died. Her sister took over as caregiver until the family realized what their mother needed was more than they could give her – they needed a team of caregivers. Ronne and her sister lovingly found a wonderful senior care community in Cleveland.
“It was a caring community much like St. Paul’s provides,” Ronne smiled. “It was a hard decision to make, but we knew it was the right one. Mom fit right in and loved the company and socialization she got while she was there.”