Cover photo for Ronald J. Grele's Obituary
Ronald J. Grele Profile Photo

Ronald J. Grele

June 8, 1934 — December 13, 2023

New York, NY

Ronald J. Grele

Ronald J. Grele, 89, passed away peacefully surrounded by family and friends in his New York City home on December 13, 2023.

Ron was born on June 8, 1934, in Naugatuck, the son of the late John R. Grele and Martha (Painter) Grele and raised by his mother and an extensive and close-knit group of uncles, tantes, and cousins. 

He graduated from Naugatuck High School in 1952, attended the University of Connecticut, and received a PhD from Rutgers University.  Upon graduation, he married his now former wife, Gaile (Anderson) Grele, also of Naugatuck.  He taught at Lafayette College, The California State University at Long Beach, and Kingsborough Community College.  While the family moved between the East and West coasts several times they landed in Highland Park, NJ for many years.  He began his career in oral history as an interviewer and archivist at the John F. Kennedy Oral History Program, housed at the John F. Kennedy Library, then the Ford Foundation, and then the New Jersey Historical Society.  In 1981, Ron moved to Los Angeles, CA, where he ran the Center for Oral History Research at UCLA, and then to his beloved New York City, NY to begin his career at Columbia University as the director of Oral History Center for Research from 1982 to 2000 and a former associate professor in the History Department.  He made New York his home for the rest of his life.  He served as editor-in-chief of The International Journal of Oral History in the crucial years from 1981-1985.  In 1975 he authored Envelopes of Sound, and in 1991, he authored its second edition, Envelopes of Sound: The Art of Oral History.  Both are considered seminal texts in the field.

Ron always enjoyed having a garden and nurtured a garden for the public on Morningside Drive for several decades. He will be remembered as an oral history thinker and writer who inspired thousands of oral historians throughout the world., and influenced decades of publications about oral history.

He is survived by his four children, John R. Grele (Phyllida Burlingame) of San Francisco, CA, Michael Grele (Lynn Fedele) of New York City, NY, Eric (Aviva) Grele of Bainbridge Island, WA, and Christine Grele (Chris Littlefield) of Block Island, RI.  Ron was an especially loving and dedicated grandparent to each of his nine grandchildren; Leif Grele, Zoe Estrin-Grele, Athene Grele, Devin Grele, Adam Grele, Ari Grele, Shane Grele, Ronan Grele and Declan Grele.  In addition to his parents, he is predeceased by his sister Janice McCullom. 

Arrangements – Funeral services will be held at Columbia University's Faculty House, 64 Morningside Drive in New York City from 11 am - 3 pm on Saturday, January 13th.  For more information about the funeral service please email Michael at  Committal will be held at the convenience of the family in Grove Cemetery.  The Alderson-Ford Funeral Home is assisting with arrangements. 
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