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Ross Pavlac, one of the earliest and most active members of the Chicago in 2000 committee, died on the evening of November 12, 1997. Two months before, he had been diagnosed as suffering from inoperable cancer. The disease had evidently progressed for years, without visible symptoms. By the time of detection, it had reached most of the vital organs, and there was no hope short of a miracle.
Ross was a believer in miracles, but they wouldn't be called "miracles" if they happened very often. While optimistic till the end, he accepted the strong probability of an early death and faced it with courage, serenity and grace.
His last fannish project was chairing Windycon XXIV, the Chicago area's largest science fiction convention. He had volunteered for the job not in the expectation of garnering additional egoboo (of which he had an ample store) but because he had firm convictions about the direction in which the convention ought to be moving and was willing to do the work needed to turn his visions into reality. As his illness worsened, the chairmanship became an increasing burden, but he persevered so long as his strength held out, making special efforts to put a team into place that could, if necessary, operate without his presence. A few days before the con, he was hospitalized for the last time and never, in this world, heard the outcome of his final project.
A summary of Ross's career in fandom reads like a compilation of "all that there is to do", particularly in the realm of running conventions. He was active in Worldcon running as a teenager, co-chaired Chicon IV in 1982 and held innumerable positions at cons large and small. He was renowned for his ingenuity at resolving intractable problems and thus was much in demand whenever a struggling Worldcon was in need of "rescue".
One of his unfulfilled ambitions was to run programming for a Worldcon. He was almost boyishly gleeful when I offered him the job of Program Director for Chicon 2000, full of enthusiasm and ideas. We agreed that, as soon as possible after LoneStarCon [www], we would get together for more detailed discussions. Alas, the first telephone call that I had from him after returning from San Antonio was not to set up a program conclave but to tell me that this was one commitment that he might not be able to keep.
It is up to us to keep it for him.
Chairman, Chicon 2000
Maria has requested donations be made to the American Cancer Society [www] in lieu of flowers.
Somehow we both knew fandom was for us, and the local guys running that Worldcon (Ben Jason, Frank Andrasovsky(sp?) and Bill Thailing) encouraged the both of us, with results you all know (in Ross' case, for sure). Ross showed fannish tendencies even before he discovered fandom. He told me he published a fanzine for his high school Latin club. (I think he attended a Catholic school.)
I was saddened to hear he was sick, and more than saddened that he's died without getting the chance to fight that he'd hoped for.
Ross helped me so much over the years, especially during a difficult breakup not that long ago. He didn't try to offer me new wisdom--he was just very good at reminding me of things I'd already learned but which I was stubbornly ignoring.
We had a lot of favorite things in common. I'm having trouble now thinking of the Chicago area--or fandom in general--without him.
George Alec Effinger
Ross was one of my mentors in Fandom. I will miss his clever ideas, his awareness of the politics of Fandom, his advice and his hugs.
The truth is just the opposite. I'm only beginning to come to grips with the grief, only beginning to be aware of the degree of loss. Denial is still a necessary refuge.
Ross was so many things to me, on so many different levels. A counselor and comrade, both within and outside of fandom, and integral part of my life for over twenty years. A self-righteous, opinionated, stubborn egotist, I can't name anyone who could make me more angry. Nor do I believe I could love anyone any more deeply.
I don't believe I ever would have become active in fandom's inner workings without Ross. He encouraged me and valued my opinions at a time when I was barely a neo and he was already a definitive SMOF. There's so much that I associate with Ross: He not only showed me all of Chicago, from Little Italy to the top of the Sears Tower, but he was an excellent tour guide in Disney World, which was in my home town! He convinced me to go horseback riding (now a favorite hobby), introduced me to dozens of ethnic eateries, and in Boston took me on my first subway ride.
No one has ever come further in convincing me that just because I'm not the best, perhaps not even good at something, maybe even scared, doesn't mean I can't try. During our last phone conversation, I told him that I'm no good at praying, and he reminded me what he'd taught me about prayer ten years ago. But when I sobbed out that I'm no good at being strong, he told me I didn't have to be strong for him, that he wasn't afraid and he would be strong for both of us. Which is what I'm still holding on to today.
Sorry we no longer have Ross with us. He was kind and generous and funny and smart. He's given a lot, over and over again, to SF fandom in working on conventions, publishing fanzines, and starting subgroups like Christian Fandom.
We saw this coming, but that doesn't stop me from being Deeply Bummed.
Who do we have left, now, who can emerge from hotel negotiations with ten free parking spaces for a Worldcon's vehicles?
He was always ready to donate time and energy to help out fans and science fiction. If you go down to the Museum of Science and Industry, passing through the food exhibit and the post office exhibit, you'll come to a display of SF artifacts, video, and illustrations. Ross's name is on the plaque there. MSI wanted to explain the connection between science fiction and spaceflight, and Ross invited the designers to examine and photograph his SF collection to find suitable illustrations.
He's at the Big Worldcon now, where the elevators arrive just when you need one, and all the angels are wearing bow ties. Goodbye, Avenging Aardvark.
Ross Pavlac was a leading force in the Chicago 2000 bid. At LoneStarCon 2, Chicago won the bid, but before Ross could even think about his role in the 2000 convention, doctors diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer. Just two months later he passed away, on November 12, 1997. Ross was 46 years old, not an age when anyone thinks he has done all he is going to do. Especially not a fan who did as much as Ross.
If you're under 50, you never attended a Chicago Worldcon that Ross didn't contribute to in a major way. He co-chaired the 1982 con with Larry Propp, handled Facilities for the 1991 con, and had been asked to create Chicon 2000's program. Along the way he also ran the Chicon V business meeting and helped design its Hugo Award base.
Ross remained active in conrunning to within a few weeks of his death. He chaired the 1997 Windycon in Chicago, but became too sick to attend it.
Ross's death meant much more than simply the end to an active life in SF fandom. It tragically ended his three-year marriage to Maria Pavlac. Before they married, Maria was a graduate student attending Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the Chicago area. Her roots in fandom go back to 1973: she has belonged to the University of Massachusetts club, worked on several Boston-area conventions, and is a member of SFWA. They wed in 1994 in the seaside Massachusetts backyard of Maria's brother, with Rick Foss as best man.
Ross was gone in a shockingly short period of time. Since Ross was a fighter, I was a more than a little stunned to be sitting in the Hillside Free Methodist Church of Evanston, IL, on November 22, waiting for the start of his memorial service. But Maria explained to a group of us at dinner after the memorial service that despite the shortness of time it had been long enough for the important things: to say goodbye, to cry together, to express their love for each other. She felt fortunate in comparison to a wife who loses her spouse instantly in a traffic accident and never gets to do any of that. Maria generously shared the moving details of those last days with those of us who hadn't been there, and remembered warmly all the people who supported Ross with visits and in prayer in the final days.
Darrell Martin, Ross's sidekick in many fannish ventures, began the sharing time at the November 22 memorial service with a tribute from the heart: "I don't know if I was Ross's best friend, but Ross was certainly my best friend." Eric Pement shared his memories about Ross's contact with Jesus People USA in the late 70s, which was one of Ross's formative experiences as a young Christian. Ross was raised as a Unitarian before making the short jump to agnosticism. When he committed his life to Christ, Ross attended weekly services at JPUSA, a full-time Christian community in uptown Chicago. He became a contributing editor for their Cornerstone Magazine, and also wrote for His, the magazine of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He reviewed music and concerts, and interviewed contemporary Christian musicians. He wrote a groundbreaking article about Amy Grant when she began to have crossover appeal. He also served as head of security for Christian rock concerts. Along the way, Ross became known as fandom's most outspoken Christian. His legacies to fandom include his comprehensive bibliography of Christian SF and fantasy.
Ross discovered SF fandom while growing up in Cleveland, and was involved with the Worldcon held there in 1966, doing things like stuffing envelopes. These beginnings were even humbler and more humorous than they sound, as Ross told the story: "When I was a neofan [at the 1966 Worldcon], Harlan Ellison grabbed a just-autographed copy of the Foundation Trilogy out of my hands, ran down the hall with it, and gave it to a fan at random."
Ross eventually became one of the best-known conrunning fans, working on some of the early Marcons in Columbus, on most of the Windycons in Chicago, and on many of the past 20 Worldcons. He was one of the fannish leaders informally referred to as "Secret Masters of Fandom" (SMoFs). Despite the nickname, darned few of them really want it to be a secret, Ross least of all. That would explain the blue aardvark suit.
Ross produced a fanzine called Avenging Aardvark's Aerie in the 70s and 80s, a title that later returned as the name of his web page. The Avenging Aardvark served as totem and fannish persona, all in one. He also had someone make him a bright blue aardvark costume and was not shy about wearing it. He loved telling the story of the time he was invited to wear it to a fannish wedding and the uproar it caused.
Curt Clemmer was one of the core architects of the 1982 Worldcon bid, along with Larry Propp, Yale Edeiken, and Ross. When Curt wed Melissa Bayard in 1980, the couple asked Ross to wear his aardvark suit to the ceremonies -- to be the "something blue."
Ross wrote, "... On the day of the wedding, I strolled into the hotel meeting room where the wedding would be, wearing my bright blue aardvark suit, complete with long ears, tail, nose, etc. It being a formal occasion, I carried a cane. Also, since Melissa and I are descended from the McKenzie clan, I wore a tie of Dress McKenzie tartan.
"As the vows were recited, Dr. Bob Passovoy's daughter Robin (who was about three at the time) suddenly noticed me. She turned to her father. 'Who dat, daddy? Who dat?' The Passovoys were sitting in the front row, only a few feet away from where the vows were even then being spoken. Bob tried to quiet her by whispering, 'That's your uncle Aardvark, Robin.'
"Robin's reaction was to wave wildly to me, shouting, 'Hi, uncie Aardvark! Hi, uncie Aardvark!'
"Curt, who was well within earshot of this, said afterwards that it took the greatest concentration of his life to pay attention to the vows and not break out laughing. As the couple exited, the Dorsai whipped out swords, switchblades and such to form a military arch of steel. I proudly participated, using my cane in lieu of a weapon..."
The famous costume reappeared over the years, including as part of the "Aardvark and the Ant" entry in the 1992 MagiCon masquerade.
As a con organizer, Ross used the aardvark icon as one means of conveying his personal vision of how to run things. He dubbed his special assistants at Chicon IV and V the "Aardvark Flying Squad," and gave them distinctive buttons. Many fans found him a pleasure to work for because he created unique identities and loyalties for his team. Fans who caught the vision found it wonderful, exciting and mesmerizing; however, those who didn't criticized it as overly grandiose.
When Ross was problem-solving, he did so with the same wonderful level of panache. Ross started one Worldcon with a six-pack of beer in hand and, when he found a particular writer, delivered it to him on one knee like a squire presenting his knight's sword. It was an active symbol of appreciation that pleased a personality other committees claimed they couldn't deal with.
From the beginning, it never was enough for Ross to have been "very helpful" to a Worldcon; he needed to make a legendary contribution. For example, he loved the idea of being part of the 1976 Worldcon-rescuing "Columbus Cavalry." It was not simply ego. Fandom was his civilization and he aspired to achieve something heroic in it. If fandom, like the Roman legions, awarded a corona graminea ("grass crown") for personally saving the day, he would have sought that honor more than any other. He won something of that kind at the 1992 Worldcon, where he was presented with a "MagiCon Hero" medal at the end of the con for his last-minute creation of the registration software.
Ross also loved to exploit his dramatic flair as a gift for his friends. At Chicon IV, I shocked him by saying I planned to skip the Hugos in order to see Buckaroo Banzai -- I'd seen Locus win before. Ross played on my sense of duty to cover the event for File 770 readers, thus making sure I was on hand to be surprised with a special committee award. He struck again at Chicon V with a special committee award for Elst Weinstein, inventor of the Worldcon Ranquet and administrator of the satirical "Hogu Awards." Ross convinced the reluctant Elst to dress in a suit and attend the Hugos by telling him he was going to help present an award to me. The hoaxer hoaxed!
Probably the perfect convergence of Ross's theatrical flair, fannishness and committed Christianity came at L.A.con III, the 1996 Worldcon, when he was called on to debate J. Michael Straczynski about the proposition "Does God Exist?"
Craig Miller, looking to diversify the program, learned that Straczynski was willing to take the negative side of this issue, but who would take the "pro" side? Craig needed about one second to answer: Ross Pavlac, a believer and a devoted Straczynski fan besides.
Ross had already met Straczynski during a Babylon 5 reception at Planet Hollywood in Chicago. Ross went early to meet personalities from his favorite tv show, but he didn't recognize one when he sat in front of him:
"As we were sitting and munching on spicy chicken wings, a man in his 40's sat down at the table and began nattering at us, talking about how expensive this thing was and how people would actually pay money to see J. Michael Straczynski and how he wouldn't pay good money to see himself! For the first 10 seconds I thought this might be some truly obnoxious fan but after the initial shock of the rapid-fire patter I realized this was Straczynski!"
When the pair debated the existence of God before a large audience at the 1996 Worldcon, I'm sure Ross was terrified (though he'd never have admitted it to us). What closely-held belief of yours would you subject to the scoffing of the day's most popular SF figure before a roomful of people? But he hung in. The debate at L.A.con III exemplified Ross's characteristic courage. As you know, courage is not fearlessness, it is overcoming fear. And as David Bratman wrote afterwards, "He totally outclassed J. Michael Straczynski in their debate at Anaheim, being prepared and articulate where his opponent wasn't really either of these."
Last year's Worldcon, LoneStarCon 2, hosted a Former Worldcon Chairs Party in a suite that overlooked the Alamo and the San Antonio Riverwalk. About 20 former Worldcon chairs were there, including two who chaired cons in the 1950's. A group photo was taken, and it's sad to think Ross won't be posing with us the next time.
Whenever death claims one of our fannish friends, it hurts. It hurts even more when we knew the person well, especially someone who was still in his most productive years. In Ross's case, so many possibilities were ready for harvest. Ross and Maria joined a new church within the last year. Ross was on the verge of fulfilling his ambition to design a Worldcon program. And he continually added information to The Worldcon Runners Guide, as WSFS-sponsored encyclopedia of practical conrunning knowledge, which he saw as his lasting legacy. He intended to synthesize the whole picture of what it meant to run a Worldcon and do it well.
Conventions and writing projects helped Ross create friendships. The 1997 Windycon committee kept a low profile about the chairman's hospitalization, not wanting to overshadow fans' enjoyment of the con. Fans were mindful of it in their own way: an auction conducted by Bob Passavoy raised over $3,000 for cancer research. Greg Thokar wrote, "So devastated to hear about Ross. He was one of the nicest fans I knew." Kevin Standlee said, "Ross is one of the first people in fandom who took me seriously and gave me a chance to show that I could be trusted with a task when he appointed me timekeeper of the 1991 WSFS Business Meeting which he chaired. I've always been grateful for this and for him. He will be missed." Other friends have posted on the Chicago 2000 website. Ross died with dreams unfulfilled, but he will be remembered for how many he realized in a lifetime of fanac.
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