Monday, February 18, 2008

He speaks his mind

He speaks his mind
A Glen Allen man has lots of ideas to better the world, and he's not afraid to share them


Apr 13, 2006

Ron Melancon calls himself an idea guy.

Solutions to everyday problems fill his head, from constructing a Ukrop's drive-through lane for fried chicken and pizza to improving the safety of trailers to using cell phones to find missing children.

Melancon calls radio stations. He lobbies state legislators. He sends out e-mails, sometimes at 2 a.m.

He has at least two Web sites. And a video.

"I am not looking for gratitude," the Glen Allen resident said. "My son will tell you, 'Daddy is trying to save the world.'"

He's flamboyant. He's opinionated. He's chatty. Some would even say he's a tad over the top.

But one thing is for sure. Melancon, 41, speaks his mind -- to anyone who will listen.

"A lot of people go through life saying someone else will do it. Well, that someone else is me," Melancon said.

Many know Melancon, a manager in the Hecht's suit department at Regency Square mall, from his public crusade against unsafe trailers.

Melancon keeps a digital camera in his car to snap pictures of dangerous trailers on the road. He sends state legislators daily e-mails, including news stories about accidents involving trailers and "Jeopardy!" questions he makes up about trailers.

He even put together a video of dangerous trailers set to Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" and is distributing it to news agencies nationwide.

Not everyone appreciates Melancon and his messages.

Del. Harvey B. Morgan, R-Middlesex, sent Melancon this e-mail response last year.

"There are appropriate avenues to approach a problem. A daily barrage of pictures and e-mails is not productive use of anyone's time," Morgan wrote in the October e-mail.

But Melancon, a father of two, also has his supporters.

"Ron is an active citizen who advocates for the issues he cares about from the heart," Bill Dolbow, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Eric I. Cantor, R-7th, said in an e-mail response to The Times-Dispatch.

"He is very forthright with his input to the office, he works hard to improve our com-munity and country, and I appreciate his dedication."

Melancon believes his passion stems from his rocky childhood.

"It made me more sensitive," he said.

Melancon was born 3 pounds, 2 ounces in Houston.

Although he is now Catholic, Melancon said he was raised Jewish. Melancon said that when his family moved to New York, he attended Catholic school but felt out of place.

Mary Ann Stonehouse, Melancon's mother, gave birth to Ron when she was just 16. His father left when he was 1.

"Ronnie saw a lot of things. He tried to protect me," said Stonehouse, who lives in Richmond. "He really cares about other people."

But long before questioning flatbed towing devices, Melancon successfully lobbied the General Assembly for a license plate to commemorate Sept. 11 victims and another plate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

He also designed a Web site filled with helpful hints for tying bow ties (with step-by-step pictures) and is pushing plans to build a monorail system in Richmond.

But his main issue is trailers.

Melancon has spent nearly $10,000 and three years trying to bring the dangers of trailers to the public's attention, he said. These dangers include the tendency for the trailers to become unhitched if not secured properly and appear transparent if not lit properly.

Melancon's campaign, which he conducts from his upstairs home office called the "war room," stems from an accident three years ago. Melancon rear-ended a trailer and was issued a ticket.

He said the trailer was so low-slung and transparent that he looked right through it and saw only the truck towing it.

After enrolling in an online safe-driving course to avoid conviction for causing an accident by following too closely, he took his case to the General Assembly. He has since approached members of Congress.

But Melancon's work hasn't been all talk.

Two years ago, the assembly passed a law that requires drivers to have two reflectors or 100 square inches of reflectorized tape on the rear of every trailer that weighs less than 3,000 pounds.

Melancon said he has consistently lobbied against efforts to dilute the law, saying more should be done, including requiring trailers to pass an inspection process. He said too often they are homemade and operated dangerously.

Although Melancon has received a number of terse e-mails from state delegates asking him to stop contacting them, other people admire his devotion.

Rick Gunn, a technician at Village West Auto Care in Henrico County, is one of them.

"I think it's an excellent effort," Gunn said. "I think something should be done about it myself. There are too many of those trailers around, and no one bothers to check them."

Melancon said he is not fazed by his detractors.

"A lot of people are afraid to take up causes," he said. "If I'm right, I'm going to go for it. I'm a guy who cares."

Contact staff writer Meredith Bonny at or (804) 649-6452.

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