Published: Jan. 24, 2024 By

Ron CossmanDr. Ronald (Ron) Edward Cossman (PhD, 2001), died on Saturday, October 14, 2023, at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis after a two-and-half week battle against pneumonia (caused by COVID and a subsequent routine trip to the dentist), and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Ron's beloved wife, Dr. Shelley Keith, and mother-in-law, Sharon Rollow, were at his side when he died, where they had been supporting and advocating for him while he was in the ICU. 

Ron was a deeply caring man who invested his time, energy and resources into those he loved. His kindhearted spirit and rich sense of humor (which often skewed on the dark side) shone through in every interaction. 

He was born in Fort Lauderdale, FL, on September 13, 1955, the only child of Shirley and Harold (Hack) Edward Cossman. Ron got his adventurous spirit from his mother, Shirley Ann Barall. When he was young, Ron loved to surf and swim and take long walks on the beach with Shirley. As an adult, Ron and his mother enjoyed sharing "Shirley-tinis" and celebrating her milestone birthdays with extreme sports, such as skydiving, hot-air balloon rides, helicopter rides, race car driving, and ziplining. They also enjoyed trips to New York with his cousin BJ and Shelley to dine in fine restaurants and attend Broadway shows. 

According to his friends, Ron was a joy to be around. He was a vibrant, energetic and adventurous man who exuded personality, loved to have fun, and embraced deep, meaningful conversations. He attended his first Burning Man in 2008, returning in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Ron was fascinated with this cultural phenomenon and felt deeply that it should be researched. He attended the TED Talks with the same enthusiasm as the scotch tasting camps, not to mention the art, the music and camaraderie.

Ron had a deep love of learning. After graduating from Nova High School, Ron attended the University of South Florida, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in mass communications and political science (it was a buy one, get one free deal, as he liked to joke). He was very proud of his time working on Robert Graham's gubernatorial campaign. It was during his first stint in college that he took a job as a concert photographer, combining his lifelong loves of photography and music. 

Ron went back to school in the 1990s, first at the University of North Florida, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics followed by a master's degree in demography and population studies at Florida State University (Go 'Noles!). He graduated with his doctorate in geography in 2001 from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with his dissertation focusing on clusters of inequality in U.S. metropolitan areas. He served as a research professor at Mississippi State University from 2001 until he retired in 2022 as a Full Professor and was then granted Research Professor Emeritus. He was the president of the Southern Demographic Association in 2014. Ron secured over $4.2 million in research grants and contracts, providing much needed funds for major contributions in education, rural health and the wellbeing of children, among others. 

Ron not only impacted his field but also cared about and enhanced the local community. As a member and president of Starkville in Motion, an advocacy group for sidewalks and bike lanes, he was instrumental in securing the funding for a beloved multi-use path in Starkville, MS. According to the mayor of Starkville, D. Lynn Spruill, the city had not yet fully embraced biking and walking as being important to the community when Ron began working on the project. His determination and dedication helped make the Lynn Lane bike path a reality and the citizens of Starkville continue to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Ron started dating the love of his life in 2013 where they bonded over an intense early boot camp class and living in faculty housing. Ron married Shelley on December 31, 2015, on the beach at St. George Island, Florida. 

Ron and Shelley shared many adventures together - biking across Iowa (RAGBRAI); competing in the Savage Race 10k and many other running and obstacle course events; and training and competing in Taido, a Japanese martial art. A year ago, they started a new Taido club together at the University of Memphis, and Ron was training for his black belt test. He will be awarded a black belt on November 11, 2023, with two other students from Mississippi State University Taido.

Ron and Shelley loved traveling together. And as much as they both loved the beach, you would never find them lounging in a beach chair, although Ron would have loved to spend time getting a tan and catching up on all of his magazines. They swam with dolphins in Jamaica, traveled to Scotland to "reclaim Shelley's ancestral lands," as Ron liked to say, participated in a Taido competition in Japan, visited dear friends in Idaho and Colorado on a trip to see Yellowstone, and viewed glaciers from a seaplane in Alaska. Ron enjoyed accompanying Shelley at conferences to LA and Seatle, mixing a love of learning and adventure. When not on adventures, Ron and Shelley enjoyed walking hand-in-hand around the neighborhood talking about research and the latest excitement in Shelley's job.

Ron is survived by his wife, Dr. Shelley Keith; mother, Shirley Ann Barall; uncle, Dr. Ronald Tice Spangler, Jr.; cousins, Barbara (BJ), Ben, and Langdon Moss; mother-in-law and father-in-law, Sharon and Dave Rollow; sister-in-law Melissa Norris, nephew Liam Norris, and nieces, Cassandra and Amelia Rose Norris; three sweet kitties, Gabrielle, Elsa and Anna; and many friends who love and miss him dearly. He was preceded in death by his father and stepfather, William (Bill) Barall.