Ric Bergman, 1949-2023
By Chris M. Barkley: We may not give it much thought, but we dance with death on a daily basis.
We evade death every day by doing little things; not crossing against the street light, using our turn signals, putting on a life jacket before boating, taking our daily medications and watching our step on mountain trails.
We take these precautions almost unconsciously, with the almost reckless assurance that we will wake in the morning and go soundly to sleep at night.
But none of that is true.
We live in a very perilous world where calamity, disease and sudden death are dealt out wholesale on a daily basis. And occasionally, we are reminded that it is closer than we can possibly imagine.
On Saturday afternoon, April 29, I was preparing to go to one of the irregularly scheduled meetings of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group with my partner Juli.
We were excited to see our CFG friends who were gathering at our friend Karen’s residence for an impromptu wake for a recently deceased member, Frank Johnson. There had been very few gatherings (and no annual Midwestcons) since 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This meeting marked a return to something resembling normalcy. But we were all mistaken.
As I waited for Juli to get ready, I was checking the CFG Facebook account (which I am a co-administrator of) and noticed we had received a urgent notification from a fan named Rita Deering Webber:
“Hey, folks, I need a favor. Ric Bergman hasn’t posted on FB for around 6 weeks and that’s not usual for him. I’m in Chattanooga so aside from the telephone I have no way to check on him. If any of you have the ability to go by and see if he’s okay I’d really appreciate it. I’ve called multiple times and left messages. Now his voicemail is full and he’s still not answering. Another friend in New York has tried also. I have his phone number and address if anyone is willing to go over there. Just message me if you need it. I’d hate to think something has happened to him and nobody knows.”
I knew Ric Bergman, but not as well as some of the other members. He was a longtime and well known member of CFG. But no one in the group had seen him in the past few years; in fact, the last time I remember seeing him was at one of our annual picnics in 2018 or 2019.
I messaged her and asked for his current address so Juli and I could conduct a wellness check. Ms. Deering responded immediately. And as it turned out, it was on the western side of town and not too far out of our way to Karen’s house.
Richard Charles Bergman was born in Cincinnati and was a graduate of Western Hills School in 1967. You might say he was born to be a fan. In September of 2013, Ric wrote on Facebook:
“Sixty-four years ago I was born, 1949 September 5th, 5 maybe 6 miles away at the Hotel Metropole the banquet was happening at Cinvention and at Deaconess Hospital at 7:27 pm, I was born. I love Doc E. E. Smith, he was there, I love Fritz Leiber Jr.’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, he was there. And now I’m a part of it, small part, but that’s probably for the best.”
When I discovered the CFG in June of 1976, Ric was hard not to notice or like. Back then, we had been gathering annually for several years at the Quality Inn Hotel in Norwood, Ohio (which, sadly, was recently demolished and razed for new development). Ric, who was well over six feet tall, possessed an unruly bush of reddish hair, had a great sense of humor and a booming laugh that could be heard several hotel rooms away.
And while I wouldn’t describe us as close friends, we had many mutual friends and we got along well enough and I certainly regarded him as a valued member of the CFG family.
After Rita transmitted Ric’s address, I googled it and looked at the area. I’ve lived in the area a majority of my life and was familiar enough with the part of Cincinnati where the apartment complex was located.
We arrived at the huge, sprawling complex on top of a hill just before sunset. The parking area and driveway was mostly composed of potholes, loose gravel and cracked pavement. I found a parking space right in front of the Ric’s building.
Juli elected to stay in the car. I made my way inside and knocked on what I thought was Ric’s apartment door. I say that because the person who answered the door was Hispanic and was not fluent in English.
As I started to go through my brain’s rolodex of Spanish phrases, the man held up his hand and reached for his smartphone. It took a couple of tries but eventually he got his English to Spanish voice translator to work. A person I assumed was the man’s partner looked on with a bemused look on her face.
When I asked if he knew Ric or his current whereabouts, he said he didn’t have any idea. Despondent, I thanked them and returned to the car. I checked the apartment number with Juli. I discovered that I was one digit off; it was actually the door next to the one I knocked on.
I went back inside and used the brass knocker on Ric’s door. Several times. There was no response.
I then did something I really did not like doing; I put my nose to the edge of the door to test for noxious odors.
Which didn’t surprise me all that much because I could see that there was some sort of seal with bristles bordering the edges, which probably reduced any noise as well.
A thought occurred to me as I stepped back outside; Ric has a car. Maybe it was still here. I texted Rita and asked her if she knew what kind of car Ric drove. She responded: “He has an old white sedan. I think a Chrysler.”
I glanced out and noticed just such a car, parked right next to our car.
I took a photo and sent it to her. “Is that it?”
Rita said: “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it.”
I went over to the car and examined it. It was covered with grime and dust. There were also leaves and dirt accumulated under the tires. Although the evidence was purely circumstantial, it certainly did not look good.
Off to the west, I could see a line of storm clouds advancing towards the complex. After consulting with Juli, we agreed that there was no telling how long it would take for someone to check the apartment so we decided to proceed to the CFG meeting and arrange for an official wellness check by the police and EMT’s from the fire division.
I can’t speak for Juli but I can freely admit I also had absolutely no interest in being present when they opened Ric’s door…
I texted Rita an update on how we were doing and we left.
For many years through the 1970’s through the 1990’s, I saw Ric in the company of Diane Devorn. They were a lovely couple and enjoyed each other’s company and ours as well.
From reports that I have since received from fellow CFG members, they were married in 1981 and for a time moved to California for a while. There was an amicable divorce towards the end of the century and Ric eventually moved back to Cincinnati. Ms Devorn died of cancer sometime afterwards.
(I was unable to verify any more of this as of this publication. Friends and acquaintances of Mr. Bergman and Ms. Devorn are free to contact me or comment on this File 770 post for corrections and clarifications).
If you were to scroll through the last two years of Ric’s posts (and I did), you can tell that he was fiercely against war, economic inequality, hypocrisy, sexism and racism. He was also a HUGE fan of Star Trek, Doctor Who and Star Wars. I also noted that the both of us shared the same sorts of political memes and jokes.
Being white, Ric could have easily used the societal privilege granted to him to his advantage but from what I could tell from his Facebook posts, he consciously chose to speak up and speak out about things he saw in his life that were wrong. I admire him for that.
Juli and I arrived at Karen’s house at dusk. After greeting our friends and apprising them of the situation with Ric, I commandeered a bedroom, closed the door and began to make phone calls.
My first call was to the housing management company which was located in northern Kentucky, across the river from Cincinnati. I did not expect anyone to answer at that hour and no one did. I left a lengthy voicemail about being concerned about not hearing from Ric and that I was calling the proper authorities to arrange a wellness check.
The next call was to the local police district; I spoke with an office who took all of my information and a narrative of everything that had happened up to that point in time. I also shared everything that Rita told me, including the condition of the car which we thought was Ric’s parked in front of the unit. The officer on duty told me that a wellness check by paramedics and police would be scheduled as soon as possible and that they would call me directly with any updates.
Sitting there on the bed, I decided to check Ric’s recent social media posts; he did not have a Twitter account so I went to his Facebook account. Besides Rita’s entreaties for help, the last known post Ric made was on Friday, March 10.
My heart sank. If Ric was not hospitalized somewhere (something the police said they would check on as well), all of our worst fears would certainly be realized.
From Ric Bergman’s September 2013 Facebook post:
“It’s hard for me to get to many meetings, I need a new pair of knees and steps and inclines are rough on me, but when I can’t walk and have to be put away someplace, I’m still gonna want Bill to keep me on the list. The only benefit I know is the people I’ve met and get to hang around with sometimes. I met my late, ex-wife at a Rivercon, she was part of The Terran League out of Columbus. I met my late best friend Wally Franke. I played D&D for maybe 9 years with the best DM possible, a Science Fiction writer. andrew offutt invited me and Di to his house for the weekend and he sent me galley proofs (?) of several of my favorite of his books. You’ve even sent me books, Mike.”
(The “Bill” mentioned in this post is Bill Cavin, the current head of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group and “Mike” was undoubtedly the late Hugo and Nebula Award winning local author, Mike Resnick.)
The wait for the call was almost intolerable. I can say almost because I was among my CFG friends and it was better to share Ric’s ultimate fate with them than face it alone.
After about forty-five minutes, my phone rang. It was a call from the police.
I identified myself and said, “I hope you have good news.”
“Well, I’m afraid I have bad news for you…”
The office explained that they found Ric in the apartment, deceased. By the look on my face, several CFG members seated near me acknowledged the news; Ric was gone.
The officer went on to explain that from all indications, he had suffered some sort of sudden medical event and had died very quickly. The county coroner was summoned and would be there shortly.
They went on to explain that they had to breach the door and wanted to know if I would be able to come by and give some more information and take custody of his house keys once they found them. I said sure and concluded the call.
As I told other assembled members, there was much despair. More so for our host, Karen, whose beloved partner Frank Johnson has succumbed to cancer five years ago.
I told Juli that we were wanted over at the apartment and we said our goodbyes. Since the car was parked several hundred yards away, I opted to get the car and drive back to pick Juli up.
The promised rain showers had just begun to strike the pavement as I walked down the hill. It was a full-fledged downpour as I pulled up to Karen’s house. As we rode, I told Juli that I wasn’t sorry that we went by or got involved. Because I had no doubt that if we had not answered Rita’s inquiry, Ric may not have been found until the apartment managers came to collect the overdue rent.
When we arrived at the complex, two police cruisers were parked in front of Ric’s unit. As I parked, Juli asked, “Do you want me to come with you?”
I sighed and said, “You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but I would welcome your company.” She squeezed my hand and we got out of the car. The rain was coming down pretty hard as we approached the entrance. There was an officer underneath the awning and it seemed as though he had been waiting for us.
We introduced ourselves. He introduced himself and stated that he was among the personnel who entered the apartment. He said that Ric was found, face down in the hallway. His estimation was that he had been there for at least two weeks. I shuddered, thinking about Ric’s last Facebook post in March.
He then asked us about our involvement with Ric and I shared Rita’s phone number and showed him our text messages we shared over the past few hours. When I asked why they were still there, he stated that the county coroner had not arrived yet.
Juli and I paused and let that sink in.
The officer said that he noticed that Ric had a Stargate poster on his wall. I said that he was a long time fan of science fiction and that so were we. Ric was truly one of us…
And with that, Juli and I walked in the rain back to our car and went home. Saddened by the loss of our friend, but happy that we were the ones who made sure he was found. I’m certain Ric would have done the same for any of us.
As of this post, the coroner has not released a cause of death. CFG member Tanya Carter reported eight days ago:
“I called the Hamilton County Coroner’s office. “L. L”. is the investigator assigned to Ric’s case. He is putting an ad in the papers to try and locate next of kin and will try for 10 days to find someone. After that…. he will give me a call if they find someone or not. If the club wants to do something about arrangements, we can do so as far as they are concerned. Otherwise, the county will treat him as an indigent, and do whatever they do in such a case. It sounds like we could dispose of any assets he had to help defray expenses, and make arrangements as necessary. Guess we need to discuss this…”
More ten years ago, Ric Bergman wrote the following to his friend Rita Deering Webber after she made a comment about a mutual friend’s memory loss;
“That’s horrible, that was always like my greatest fear, you know, like Alzheimer’s. I don’t mind dying, but I want all of me to go all at once. I don’t have anyone that could take care of me and nothing could be as lonely as losing your memories.”
And I saw and heard from Ric so infrequently that he faded from my memories as well as others, too.
Two days after Ric’s body was found, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered aired the following story: “America has a loneliness epidemic. Here are 6 steps to address it”.
The next day, Morning Edition host A Martinez interviewed Eric Liu of Citizen University about this “epidemic of loneliness” in America: “Why the U.S. surgeon general says feeling lonely could lead to an early death”.
The point must be made that what happened to Ric Bergman could have been avoided.
It is ironic that in a world that is more interconnected and socially active that people everywhere are feeling an alarming amount of alienation and loneliness.
The advice I would impart to fandom, our families and friends is this: stay safe, keep in touch and know that you are loved and valued.
I’d like that put on my headstone. Ric Bergman, 50 year member of The Cincinnati Fantasy Group. – FIAWOL –
-Richard Charles Bergman, September 2013