Monday, March 23, 2015

R.I.P., Peggy Rae Sapienza

While standing in an airport earlier today, I learned that my longtime friend and one of SF/F fandom's great people, Peggy Rae Sapienza, had died early this morning. 

A lot of people can tell you about Peggy Rae's many achievements as one of the true masters of SF fandom, so I won't spend time on those things.  (A good starting point if you'd like to read about them is the SFWA memorial page for her.)  Instead, I'd like to tell you two short stories about how she and I became friends.

In the late 1970s, I was attending one of my first SF conventions in the Baltimore/Washington area.  I honestly can't remember which con it was.  I do vividly recall, though, sitting in the back of a very crowded room watching an interview of Frederik Pohl, one of the grandmasters of SF.  I knew Pohl's work and, as someone who was hoping to one day be an SF writer, was more than a bit in awe of him. 

As the panel began to break up, Peggy Rae breezed by, heading from the back of the room to the front.  She spotted me--I was sitting alone--stopped, and asked if I was new to cons.  I said I was.  She asked if I was a fan or a writer or an artist, and I said I was definitely the first and hoping to be the second.  She nodded and moved on to the front of the room, where she collected Pohl and began heading out with him.  I stayed seated to give them a clear exit; he was an important SF writer, after all. 

Peggy Rae stopped directly in front of me and said something I've never forgotten, something that still chokes me up for its sheer kindness. 

"Fred," she said, "I'd like to introduce Mark Van Name.  He's a new writer." 

I stood, Pohl stuck out his hand, we shook, and he talked to me for a minute or two, completely collegial and friendly, one writer to another.  Then he apologized for having to run to the next event, and off they went.

That single event taught me a great deal about how to behave with grace, how to treat our fellow writers, and how generally to dispense kindness with no thought to personal gain from doing so.

Over the following three and a half decades, I witnessed Peggy Rae doing similar things too many times to count.

About six years after that first contact--again, I can't remember exactly when--I drove with some friends from NC to a convention, Paracon, in State College, PA, where I had gone to grad school at Penn State.  Peggy Rae was there, being as helpful and kind as always but looking more than a bit out of sorts.  I went up to her and thanked her for that early convention kindness; she didn't remember me or having done it, which in no way diminished how I felt about her behavior.  When I asked what was wrong, I learned to my embarrassment that her first husband, Bob Pavlat, had died fairly recently, and she was still getting used to being at cons without him. 

I made a point of staying with Peggy Rae for as much of that weekend as she wanted company.  A group of us went to a movie, ate together, and generally had a good time.  It was the least I could do for Peggy Rae.

From then on, we were friends--not such close friends that we chatted often, but the kind of friends who could ask each other for the occasional favor and reasonably expect to receive it.  I also became friends with John Sapienza, to whom Peggy Rae introduced me and whom she later married.

My sympathies are with John and with her children and grandchildren, whom I did not know.  I cannot imagine how they are feeling.  

Peggy Rae was famous in fandom for running conventions, for having an almost wizard-like knack for knowing what people were good at and helping them reach that potential, and for her instrumental role in major convention after major convention.  She deserves each and every accolade she is now receiving and has earned in the past. 

For me, though, she will always be the friend who showed me kindness when she didn't know me and I least expected it, who treated me like a real writer before I was one, and who always always greeted me with a smile and a hug. 

Damn, Peggy Rae, the world is so much poorer for your passing. 


Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

This is her son, Eric. Thank you so much for the two stories you left here. I didn't know the first one, but I did know the second. I also know how much your friendship meant to her, especially during those months of 1983-1984. She'd often mentioned how easy you were to work with on programming, how pleasant to see and talk to. Thanks for being a good friend.

--Eric Pavlat

Mark said...

Hi, Eric,

Being Peggy Rae's friend was always my great honor and pleasure.

My thoughts are with you and your family in this incredibly sad time.

Take care


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