Ro Nagey (1953-2020)

Ro Nagey

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!”

GoFundMe Launched To Help Ro Nagey

Science author, long-time fan, and creator of Confusion, Ro Nagey, will soon be reliant on a wheelchair to get around and has started a GoFundMe appeal for help to move into an assisted-living facility and attend one last Worldcon.

I am almost at the point of needing a wheelchair to get around. I can barely walk 30 feet and that’s almost always with a three-wheeled Zimmerman frame. I am also bound by debt. I am not just broke but deeply in debt. I’ve been trying to act as if I was ‘normal’ – both in physical and financial health – but I’m not.

For those of you who saw me at LonCon, I am now someone much weaker. I hate how bad off I’ve become physically.

Recently, I’ve been offered the chance to live in an assisted-living facility. I don’t want to admit it but it’s time for me to move there. And I need your help. I need to get out of debt and also afford the movers so I can live there.

However, I also want to go to Kansas City, MO this August to participate in the 74th Science Fiction Worldcon, MidAmeriCon II. It’s perfect symmetry as I did my very first WorldCon panel at MidAmeriCon I, exactly 40 years ago, where I interviewed John Brunner.

The appeal has already raised $1,498 toward its $9,700 target.

Learn more about Ro Nagey in her bio at Amazing Stories.

[Thanks to JJ for the story.]

Free Associating About Borders

Nathan Bomey’s column at asks where are the Borders Brothers now that their namesake company is foundering?

I learned from his column that, in the first place, Tom and Louis Borders sold the company to Kmart Corp. almost 20 years ago and have had no role in its management since. In the second place, they rarely make public statements about Borders. So asking such a question is purely a contrivance to fill a column – but intriguing just the same:

As the book store chain that bears their name approaches bankruptcy, brothers Tom and Louis Borders are nowhere to be found.

That’s partly because they left Ann Arbor years ago. Louis is an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, and Tom is involved in a financial business in Austin, Texas.

The Louisville natives started Borders Book Shop on South State Street in 1971. After Louis developed innovative inventory management software, the company transitioned into expansion mode. In 1992, the brothers sold it to retailer Kmart Corp. and stepped out of management of the company.

At the time, Borders had just 21 stores. Today, the company has 25 times as many Borders stores — an extremely costly footprint that is expected to drive Borders Group Inc. into bankruptcy as early as today.

Reading about the establishment of a Ann Arbor bookstore on State Street in the early 1970s prompted memories of my visits to the city in late 1974/early 1975 when Ross Pavlac and I visited Ro and Lyn Nagey. I seemed to remember that State Street was the setting for Ro to spring a little joke on us out-of-towners when we decided to go out for pizza.

We piled into the car and Ro said he was taking us to Pizza Bob’s – and would we rather go to Pizza Bob’s Uptown or Pizza Bob’s Downtown? I naively asked which was closest and Ro said they were each about the same distance from his house. So I arbitrarily picked Uptown. We went there and had our meal.

On the way out Ro asked, did we all want to walk over and see Pizza Bob’s Downtown? I’m not a great one for hoofing around town after I’ve just eaten but that hasn’t kept me from being roped into any number of fannish expeditions and I saw it was about to happen again. Ro led off. Then after taking only a few paces he suddenly stopped. And as proud as if he had arranged it himself he waved to the sign over the nearest building: Pizza Bob’s Downtown was just two doors away.

I checked online and was pleased to see Pizza Bob’s still exists at 814 S. State St., though apparently this was the “Downtown” location because Pizza Bob’s “Uptown” site has gone away.

Learning that the pizza place was in the 800 block of State Street I could see I was never terribly close to any of Borders’ early locations in the 200 and 300 block, and if we even drove past it would have been merely another one of Ann Arbor’s many bookstores.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the link to Bomey’s column.]

Pizza Bob’s Uptown