Roy Dronkers was a real estate and fundraising icon whose smiling face greeted people everywhere — on fliers, on billboards. His face was synonymous with selling homes in Pleasanton.
But more than that, he was known for being a gentle soul who looked people straight in the eye and made them feel like they were the most important person in the world. Friends say he was as kind to the janitors at the gym as he was to CEOs, and that as gregarious as he was, he was also shy and sensitive.
Dronkers died Jan. 20 at the age of 58, and on Friday, hundreds stood inside a packed-to-the-hilt Friday afternoon to celebrate his life.
It was inside that club that Dronkers had jovially hosted early morning real estate marketing meetings, and Friday's celebration kicked off with a video of Dronkers, clad in black, racing out of a black SUV in the Tommy T's parking lot to the Mission Impossible theme song — he was the president of Valley Marketing Association, afterall, and needed to get inside the club, stat.
People laughed and whispered to each other than this was the Roy Dronkers they knew — always smiling, and happy.
There was nowhere to sit during the event; the place was so packed that many couldn't see the large television screens showing the family and friends who came to speak.
But everyone could hear.
One after another, people talked about Dronkers.
Brother Ron Dronkers said the past week had been tough.
He said that it's easy to look at something horrific and let that take over the memories you have.
"But we're not going to do that," he said. "Put your sad stories in a sack and leave them there.
"I'm just going to say it; Roy took his own life," he said.
"He suffered from clinical depression and most likely bipolar disorder. It's complex and difficult and a lot of time, the treatment makes it worse and gives you suicidal thoughts.
"And I know people are probably asking, 'Why didn't I ask him how he was feeling?' Or 'I shouldn't have canceled that coffee.' But if every one of us called him ten times a day, he wouldn't have burdened us with his troubles.
"Can you imagine the energy he had to gather to make everything seem OK? Probably, he just became exhausted.
"And so we should be thankful for the time we did get to spend with him," he said.
"Today," he said, "we won't let his death be the end. He's embarked on a new journey and so must we. It's up to us to reclaim his life."
Real estate colleagues talked of a man who burst into the Pleasanton real estate scene in the 1980s, after a stint at the Clorox Corporation, eager to make his mark. He learned from people like Janet Cristiano of Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate but then became a mentor, helping new agents learn the ropes. He once sent a card to an agent that simply said, "You'll do great."
He also became a fundraising force in town, and was involved with most organizations here. He helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a Realtor charity fundraiser as well as the Pleasanton Weekly's annual Holiday Fund. Friends say he was known for calling every person he knew, asking them to donate.
Friends of Dronkers play in a rock band that often kicks off the real estate marketing meetings, and members said they would often warm up their voices by singing to him.
"Rooooyyyyyy," they sang on Friday, drawn out and in various harmonies. Everyone laughed.
"You can ask my wife," said band member Dave Stark. "When we have practice at my house, she'll ask, 'Are you going to do the Roy song?'"
"Roy started it," he said. "He was the one who thought we should do music at these functions."
Friend and fellow Realtor Sophia Aretta said she and Dronkers recently took a business trip to Napa, where they sang songs in the car as loud as they could, until they were laughing so hard they were crying.
She remembers the first time she saw him four years ago. She loved his effervescence, and said to herself, "I need to know him."
"This news was heartbreaking to me," she said of his death.
"He brought a light into our office. And when we all heard the news, we all said, 'I should've called,' but he was a well-loved guy and he knew it. It's just something that overcame him.
Jeanie Reitzel referred, as many did, to the way Dronkers would make any person feel like they were most important to him.
"He'd call and say, 'I need to pick out new eyeglasses but I can't do it without you,' and then I was like, 'Oh good! I get to go.'
"I'm going to make that my memory," she said.
Doug Buenz said Dronkers had a unique ability to connect with people.
"It was marvelous," he said. "If you called and asked him to pick you up at the airport at 3 a.m., he'd be there ten minutes early and with a smile that would radiate a room."
He did say that Dronkers had begun to get burnt out on real estate, and that raising money and helping people had become his true life aims.
When he talked about his sons, Tim and Jeff, his eyes would light up, he said. Buenz and Dronkers would often talk about the great mysteries of life in long, meandering conversations.
"And I just know that he's up in heaven, running the marketing meetings up there," he said.
Then the tears came. Buenz said his friend loved to hug people, and another said Dronkers even helped him out of depression.
"If we could all be a little more like Roy, the world would be a better place," said Buenz.
A memorial Facebook page, set up just after his death, has many comments. Friends and colleagues plan to download all the comments posted there and make a book for Dronkers's family.
The family has also established a Roy Dronkers scholarship fund. Click here to learn how to donate.