Longtime fan Ro Nagey died July 27 announced a friend on Facebook. She had been struggling with her health since the end of 2019, and in and out of the hospital for most of this year. Ro’s cause of death was listed as COPD.
After meeting other fans at the 1973 Worldcon from Ann Arbor, where Ro was currently attending the University of Michigan as an engineering student, she founded the Stilyagi Air Corps. Their weekly meetings were held in the back room of the Cloak and Rocket, a science fiction bookstore (now long defunct) where Ro was employed.
Ro announced in 2013 that she had transitioned to female, so I will be using she/her pronouns throughout.
With Ro at the helm, the Stilyagi Air Corps ran its first con in a single function room in 1974, then launched a full-sized con in 1975, ConFusion, originally held in Ann Arbor and later in Detroit. The group voted to call its fanzine Cap’n Ro’s Whiz Bang when Ro was out of the room.
Ro dined out for years telling fans the dramatic and silly story of “The Secret Handgrip of Fandom,” based on events at the 1974 PghLANGE in Pittsburgh. A rococo version is in the Ditto 14 program book (starts on page 6.) Be warned that it’s rife with all kinds of sexual attitudes and innuendo that give Seventies fans the reputation that they enjoy today (to quote Captain Renault).
Ro met her good friend Larry Tucker at that first ConFusion, and much of Ro’s own early fannish autobiography threads through the obituary she wrote about Tucker when he died in 2013, for example —
I had a party at my house for the Stilyagi to celebrate a lunar eclipse. I called it “Big Bird Eats Moon”. It started in the afternoon. It was definitely an early 70’s party. One-third of us were drinking copious quantities of beer, one-third were tripping on LSD and nearly everyone was smoking.
Larry was there to videotape it. Artist Randy Bathurst and SMoF Ross Pavlac were hilarious. They were stone-cold sober and were only drinking soda. At one point, Randy picked up one of my black kittens (I had two: Buddha and The Bitch) and put it halfway into his mouth. Ross and Randy – two very, um, large men – got into a belly bump contest.
That 1975 party is also where I first met Ro. I was in the Midwest for a year taking a master’s degree in popular culture at Bowling Green (OH) State University. And that summer I got to ride with Ro, Ro’s wife Lin, and another Michigan fan to Midwestcon in Cincinnati.
Ro became a science writer after graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in Engineering Science, “a theoretical midpoint between Engineering and Physics,” according to her bio at Amazing Stories. Her first writing was for the magazine, Automation, which coined the word.
A recognized expert in industrial computer control, she published hundreds of articles and edited several books on industrial motion and control. She represented tech companies such as Apple Computer, Allegiant Technologies, Runtime Revolution and her own software company, Royal Software, at conventions and seminars in America and Europe. Apple Computer sold her software, LiveCard, and featured it during a keynote presentation at the Apple Developers’ Conference. She helped create the Masters of Education (Computers) at Johns Hopkins University.
Ro also achieved fame as an improvisational comedian, appearing with Stephen Leigh as “Cosmos & Chaos,” an improvisational comedy juggling act.
In December 2003 Ro remarried, and moved to Wales where Ro’s wife Heather lived.
The next news I had about Ro came ten years later, with her telling friends in fandom about transitioning to female. Ro became active with organizations in the UK that worked as advocates for transgendered persons, and periodically wrote on Facebook about the hazards and fears she experienced, such as —
A Welsh government survey said that 78% of the transgender community had reported being verbally abused and 48% of the transgender community had been physically abused. So, yes, every time I walk out the door there’s still a thought in the back of my mind if today will be the day I get abused. I’ve been verbally abused. I hope it never gets worse than that….
By 2016, Ro’s health had deteriorated and she wrote in a GoFundMe appeal, “I can barely walk 30 feet and that’s almost always with a three-wheeled Zimmerman frame.” Incapacity forced her to abandon plans to attend the Worldcon in Kansas City.
A long series of illnesses and injuries followed. The ups and downs sometimes came on the same day, as when Ro said some Facebook friends cut ties after she came out as trans, but then David Gerrold made a complimentary comment about her writing. A re-energized Ro concluded: “The majority of you who gave me support all along, love you too!”