Peggy Rae Sapienza (1944-2015)

Peggy Rae Sapienza at Capclave in 2007. Photo by Ellen Datlow.

Peggy Rae Sapienza at the 2007 Capclave. Photo by Ellen Datlow.

Peggy Rae Sapienza, one of fandom’s most admired conrunners and fan guest of honor at Chicon 7, the 2012 Worldcon, passed away March 22 from complications following heart valve replacement surgery. She was 70.

Her highest profile achievements were chairing the 1998 Worldcon, Bucconeer, and co-chairing the 2014 World Fantasy Con. She also served as Vice Chair and then Acting Chair of the 1993 Worldcon, ConFrancisco, helping stabilize the committee in the period after chair Terry Biffel died and before the appointment of Dave Clark as chair. In addition, she chaired two Smofcons (1992, 2004) and a Disclave (1991).

People liked to work for her — including some who thought they were done volunteering before she called. Peggy Rae’s unique leadership style combined playfulness, the appeal of being admitted to an inner circle, knowledgeability, and a frank demand for results.

She had an unlimited resume in many areas of convention organizing – press relations, program, registration, guest of honor book, and exhibits. She also felt it was her mission to pass on the skills and experiences she possessed. A number of the current generation of Worldcon organizers called her a mentor and today are mourning her loss in their own way. “I feel like a whole library just burnt down,” Glenn Glazer wrote on Facebook.

Peggy Rae was a second generation fan whose father, Jack McKnight, mother, Buddie McKnight Evans, and step-mother, Ann Newell McKnight, were involved in the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, while her step-father, Bill Evans, was active in the Washington Science Fiction Association. (Jack McKnight is specially remembered for making the first Hugo Awards in 1953.)

Growing up in Philadelphia fandom, in the late 1950s she served as Secretary and Vice President of PSFS and worked on and appeared in PSFS’ fan-made movie “Longer Than You Think.”

She began publishing Etwas in 1960. Ed Meskys recalls, “We traded fanzines at the time, her Etwas (German for something) for my Niekas (Lithuanian for nothing).”

Lou Tabakow, Peggy Rae Pavlat (Sapienza) and Bob Pavlat at NyCon III in 1967,

Lou Tabakow, Peggy Rae Pavlat (Sapienza) and Bob Pavlat at NyCon III in 1967,

Peggy Rae McKnight met Washington-area fanzine and convention fan Bob Pavlat at her first Worldcon, Pittcon, in 1960. They married in 1964 and had two children, Missy Koslosky and Eric Pavlat. In 1983, the couple received fandom’s Big Heart Award. That same year Bob passed away. In 1999, Peggy Rae married John T. Sapienza, Jr., a government attorney and longtime fan.

One of Peggy Rae’s enduring contributions to how Worldcons use facilties is the ConCourse, which she and Fred Isaacs invented for the 1989 Worldcon, Noreascon Three. The Sheraton had denied the use of its facilities to the con due to some problems, forcing the committee to create attractions in the Hynes Convention Center to compensate, or later, when they regained the Sheraton through litigation, to keep crowds in the Hynes for the sake of peace with the hotel. Their solution was the ConCourse which, with the Huckster Room and the convention program, gave members ample reason to hang out in the Hynes.

The ConCourse amalgamated fanhistory exhibits, convention information, the fanzine lounge, the daily newzine publishing area, convention bidding and Site Selection tables, and a Hynes-run snack bar in one place, and layed it out as an indoor park. Fans responded so positively the idea was used repeatedly by future Worldcons, and many of the exhibits Peggy Rae commissioned are still being presented.

This was also when the expression “I mowed Peggy Rae’s lawn” originated. Some of the planning for Noreascon 3 took place at her house, she explained during a 2012 interview. A friend arrived before a meeting while Peggy Rae was gardening and offered to help. In a kind of Tom Sawyeresque moment, others came by and joined in the gardening. Joe Mayhew was a witness, and years later warned people that if they voted for the Baltimore Worldcon bid they would end up having to mow Peggy Rae’s lawn….

The legend was celebrated by Chicon 7. Chris Garcia described how in a recent interview – and the way Peggy Rae used it to get some more work out of him…

At Chicon, there was a fake parcel of grass and a toy lawnmower with a sign marked ‘Mow Peggy Rae’s Lawn’ and the folks who pretended to mow got a Ribbon saying “I mowed Peggy Rae’s Lawn.” I did the mowing, but Peggy Rae refused me a ribbon until I did the [promised] Campbell [Award] exhibit…

For many years Peggy Rae was a key planner and motivator in the effort to preserve fanhistory. The Society for the Preservation of the History of Science Fiction Fandom, AKA the Timebinders, was formed at FanHistoriCon I in May 1994 in Hagerstown, Maryland, convened by Peggy Rae, Bruce Pelz, and Joe Siclari to gather fans of different fannish generations together to discuss the best ideas.

Bruce Pelz, Harry Warner, Jr. and Peggy Rae Pavlat (Sapienza) at FanHistoriCon in 1994. Photo by Rich Lynch.

Bruce Pelz, Harry Warner, Jr. and Peggy Rae Pavlat (Sapienza) at FanHistoriCon in 1994. Photo by Rich Lynch.

Peggy Rae worked 16 years as a contractor for the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. in UNIX systems support, retiring in 2000.

In her later years she was instrumental in supporting the 2007 Japanese Worldcon as their North American Agent. She chaired SFWA’s Nebula Awards Weekend in 2010, 2011 and 2012, earning a tribute from John Scalzi. She was part of the DC17 bid for the 2017 Worldcon.

Just this past fall, Peggy Rae helped me put together a couple of programs for Smofcon 32 and I find it especially hard to accept that someone so filled with ideas, imagination and energy can be taken away.

John Sapienza’s announcement said about her last day and burial arrangements: “[On Sunday] the hospital called us to come in, and Eric & Wendy Pavlat, Missy & Bryan Koslosky, and I were with her when she passed…. She will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with her first husband, Bob Pavlat. (*)”

Peggy Rae is survived by John, her two children, and eight grandchildren.

Update 03/24/2015: (*) Eric Pavlat in a comment below says that Peggy Rae will not be interred at Arlington, but will be buried this Saturday at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Prince George’s County, MD. 

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24 thoughts on “Peggy Rae Sapienza (1944-2015)

  1. Dreadfully sad news. Peggy was a long-standing member of the Fantasy Amateur Press Association, often circulating Worldcon programme books via our mailings, and maintained an annual record of contributors. She will be sorely missed.

  2. Hi, thanks so much for your lovely write-up of my mom. I suppose you could add the 2014 World Fantasy Awards and that she was the 2012 Worldcon’s Fan GoH, but you certainly hit a lot of things I didn’t know about…such as that PSFS fan-made movie. I’ll be printing this out and saving it for our younger children to read in future years.

    By the by, the funeral arrangements just changed today; the Arlington announcement is now incorrect. She will in fact be buried this Saturday at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Prince George’s County, Maryland. My apologies for the world being sculpted in gravy instead of stone.

  3. Hi Eric, I’m glad you’re pleased with it. Her honor as Worldcon Fan GoH is in the first sentence. Is the 2014 World Fantasy Awards something in addition to her co-chairing WFC, which is listed?

    Thanks for the update about the funeral arrangements. I will amend the article with that news.

  4. For a number of years, Peggy Rae and Dawn Plaskon attended Potlatch (both in Seattle and in the Bay Area) mainly to run the money and record-keeping side of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. They did great work and were great fun to have around. This year was the first time in a long time they didn’t attend, due to Peggy Rae’s upcoming surgery. It’s just a small addition to Peggy Rae’s generous and big-hearted biography.

  5. Mike Glyer, I love you. Thanks for an oh-so-true tribute to mom, who adored you, adored fandom, and who took great joy in finding sneaky ways to make the world run more smoothly.

  6. Yup, you did indeed hit those. I’d forgotten those by the end of the bio because I’d lapsed into chronological order and because my brain is mush. It’s all beauty, though.

  7. I never knew Peggy Rae well, but I always found her a lovely person to spend time with. I will be sure to cast a traditional write-in vote for “Peggy Rae’s house” on my Worldcon site selection ballot this year.

  8. Thanks for the wonderful words Mike. I think the photos are a great vision of her life as well.

  9. I’d known Peggy Rae for nearly 40 years and she was a real heroine of convention running fandom.

    Minor nitpick – The photo with Bruce and Harry was taken at Harry’s house. I supposed, technically, you could say “at FanHistoriCon I,” since almost everyone who was at FHC I visited Harry. More precisely. the con was held at a hotel in Hagerstown, MD. People who wanted to visit Harry, went in groups of 2 or 3.

  10. Laurie: I see your point. People made much of “bringing the con to Harry” at the time. A different photo caption at makes clear that was not to be taken literally — “While FanHistoriCon 1994 was held in Hagerstown, Harry Warner Jr did not like crowds so he did not attend.”

  11. Peggy Rae was just such a kind, delightful, nice person. She was sweet to me when I was an unheard of neo, and just as nice 40 years later when i saw her last fall at WFC. She was also one of fandom’s truly competent people, contributing her skills and energy in myriad ways to make clubs and cons function, not to mention SFWA. She will truly be missed, both by fandom collectively and by hundreds of individuals who knew and loved her.

  12. Thank you for an excellent appreciation of Peggy Rae. You included a lot more information than most of the obituaries I have seen. And I particularly liked Ellen Datlow’s photo, which seems to have the sparkle and the right range of tones for the obituary we are doing for the Washington Post. I will ask her for permission to use it.

  13. Thank you for the bio, Mike. She was an amazing person, and a Fannish National Treasure. She was always a joy to work for, and a joy to work with. She had an excellent sense of proportion in relation to fannish squabbles.

  14. Peggy Rae has been a mainstay for my entire time in fandom, since 1994 and my first convention. For me a long time–for her not so much. Yet she instilled a sense of wonder, newness, family, and welcoming inclusiveness in everything she said to me. She will never be forgotten–there are things I never would have experienced were it not for her and I am grateful. She made a difference in so many lives are we are all a little diminished by her passing.

  15. Peggy Rae was smart and kind and competent and funny and knowledgeable about everything. I was thinking of her Sunday, in fact, and looking forward to seeing her at Sasquan, if not earlier. It gave me joy to be around her, and I send my deepest condolences to John and the rest of her family and friends.

  16. Mike, this is a wonderful tribute for a terrific woman. Thank you. I didn’t know Peggy Rae as well as some others who’ve responded, but I certainly appreciate all that she did for fandom.

  17. More details on the funeral, please. I phoned Fort Lincoln Funeral Home to learn the hour of the funeral, and they say they never heard of her. There’s nothing in the Washington Post, Washington Times, or Baltimore Sun, or on the WSFA or PRSFS email lists. I’m sure there are past and present WSFA and PRSFS members besides me who would like to attend. Thanks, and my condolences.

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