The Force That Was Peggy Rae Sapienza

I first met Peggy Rae… well, I don’t remember. She always existed, it seemed, as long as there was fandom. I know people who were within fandom long before Peggy Rae was even born, but somehow, her presence traveled back through time to the very beginning and before. Like the Ioka, she was always and endless and forever.

Or so it seemed.

Peggy Rae Sapienza, born 1944, passed away on March 22nd, 2015. She was 70.

Her impact was innumerable.

I can count no less than a dozen people who were dragged into WorldCon–running due to Peggy Rae’s irresistible force. Sometimes, it was as easy as “So, what are you doing for Con Francisco?” She seldom needed the hard sell. In many ways, she was like a hypnotist—when she asked, you automatically felt like it was a good idea, and you did it.

Or at least tried.

Like me, Peggy Rae was a second–generation fan. Her father, Jack McKnight, was a big figure in fandom. Peggy Rae sat me down one afternoon at World Fantasy and told me the story of the creation of the Hugo rockets at the 1953 WorldCon in her hometown of Philadelphia. Jack missed the entire convention creating the rockets! Maybe it was that view of things, watching her Dad working on the con so hard that he didn’t have time to actually attend, that led her to be one of the truly great volunteers. In 1983, shortly after Bob died, Peggy Rae and Bob were jointly recognized with the Big Heart Award, the highest award given for service to fandom.

In many ways, she was one of the greatest historical resources fandom had. Glenn Glazer, one of those con–runners who can be seen as of her SMOFish progeny, said it best: “I feel like an entire library burnt down.” She had a view of the last 50 years that was both deep and broad. Her first husband, Bob Pavlat, was a fan dating back to the 1940s. She had two kids with Pavlat, and both of them ended up as third–generation fans. She had stories, dozens of them, that she could roll out whenever a fannish history–loving fan like me wanted to hear them. She helped organize the first FanHistoriCon, the convention dedicated to capturing and discussing the history of fandom. She organized the Timebinders, a group whose purpose was to preserve and present the history of fandom. I first started down the path to Fan Historianism via the Timebinders email list. Such was Peggy Rae.

Of course, Glenn was not the only person Peggy Rae mentored in the way of con–running. If I had it in me, I’d create a chart of cons that only happened because Peggy Rae had brought them into being, either directly, or by influencing those who created them, such as Chicon 7. Peggy Rae lured Dave McCarty and Helen Montgomery, two of the driving forces behind Chicon 7, into their first WorldCon positions. “Because one simply does not say “No” to Peggy Rae. It was impossible to do so,” Helen noted on her Facebook page. It makes sense that Peggy Rae would be the Fan Guest of Honor at that convention.

Of course, it’s impossible to list every convention she worked on, and it’s even more difficult to trace out her influence, as dozens of con–runners were Peggy Rae people. She chaired a WorldCon, Bucconeer in 1998, and was Acting Chair for Con Francisco until Dave Clarke was appointed as Chair. She ran a World Fantasy and was a driving force behind the Nebula weekends as well. She chaired a couple of SMOFCons, a Disclave, and worked in just about every capacity you can work at a con.

Peggy Rae was a reader. She was a fanzine editor, first producing a zine called Etwas in the 1960s, and later a member of the Fantasy Amateur Press Association. That was where I first encountered her in print. She was a critic of my fast–and–loose style of editing, though she also supported my “Publish! Publish! Publish!” concept by actually trying to keep up. She once said to me, “You’d be dangerous if you ever learned how to spell.” She sat me down and gave me perhaps the best advice I ever received on publishing fanzines: “Keep having fun; it shows.”

Peggy Rae married John Sapienza in 1999. John’s a great guy, and when I finally met him, likely in 2002 or so, I knew that they were absolutely perfect for one another. Their sense of humor was so complimentary. I was always excited to go to a convention when Peggy Rae and John were going to be there. They’d both make the time well spent!

So many people loved her, admired her, and worked with her that the internet sagged under the weight of tributes the day she passed. “Peggy Rae Sapienza was a lovely person. She was also one of the people who made Worldcons and World Fantasy cons and so many other conventions happen,” Farah Mendlesohn posted. Guy Lillian noted that “fandom has lost a friend, we have lost a friend,” but perhaps it was Pat Cadigan who put my thoughts into words most solidly: “In mourning for Peggy Rae Sapienza till further notice.”

Like many others, I’d been caught by Peggy Rae. She knew I was a history guy and a museum guy. She had been conspiring with Jay Lake to create an exhibit to draw more attention to the Campbell award (which, I’m told, is not a Hugo). Jay, Peggy Rae, and I pushed thoughts back and forth, and we came up with an idea for a video presentation along with a static artifact display to go along with it. As often happens, I got busy. I had done some work on it, but it fell off my radar. Jay would remind me about once a year, but nothing ever went forward.

When Peggy Rae was the Guest of Honor at Chicon 7, there was a fun little exhibit where you’d “mow Peggy Rae’s lawn.” It was apparently a SMOFish in–joke dating back years. There had been a convention committee meeting at the Pavlet house and someone showed up early while Peggy Rae was gardening. The fan—not having a garden themselves—decided it looked like fun and joined in. Others came and joined in, and later one of the great jokers in East Coast fandom history, Joe Mayhew, said that people should vote against the Baltimore Worldcon because it would entail “mowing Peggy Rae’s lawn.” At Chicon 7, if you pushed the toy lawnmower around the astroturf, you’d get a little ribbon that said “I Mowed Peggy Rae’s Lawn” in bold, friendly letters. Like dozens of others, I pushed the mower around while Peggy Rae sat in a little lawn chair watching. I headed over to her to get the ribbon to add to my badge.

“You’ll get your ribbon when we get our Campbell exhibit.” she said.

At LoneStarCon, I delivered that very exhibit, and good to her word, there was an “I Mowed Peggy Rae’s Lawn” ribbon waiting for me in San Antonio.

There is no way you can cover everything in a life as rich as Peggy Rae’s. Maybe that’s the point. She is going to be so widely missed because she so widely lived. Her impact crater was not only deep, it was so very wide as well; you couldn’t walk around it in a day, a week, a lifetime. That was what she managed to create.

Other Remembrances of Peggy Rae Sapienza:

SFWA

John Scalzi

Mary Robinette Kowal

File 770

Michael Swanwick

Helen Montgomery and Chuck Serface

Christopher J Garcia

Christopher J Garcia is a writer, fanzine editor, curator, filmmaker, and historian from Boulder Creek, California. He won the Hugo for Best Fanzine in 2011 for co–editing The Drink Tank. He’s made short films, produced documentaries, programmed film festivals, and edits the film journal Klaus at Gunpoint as well as Journey Planet (Hugo nominee—2012–2014). He makes a living as a Curator at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

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