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Memorial for Stu Shiffman

Yesterday was the memorial gathering for Stu Shiffman. It was held at the Lake City Community Center, not far from where his wife, Andi Shechter, now lives. At some point Carrie Root counted forty people in attendance. I knew most of the people, but there were a few who were new to me, including a friend of Andi's who has known her since fifth grade. There was a massive display of Stu's art and old fanzines, a smaller display of T-shirts he'd done the artwork for (along with some stuffed animals that he'd given Andi over the years), and there was also a table with T-shirts, ties, and CDs that had belonged to Stu and were being given away to anyone who wanted them. Some of Stu's favorite music was playing on a sound system.

Memorial Display
Some of Stu's artwork

I spent the first hour looking at the displays, nibbling some of the food people had brought, and chatting with folks -- plans for future fanzines, sudden incursions of teenagers into households, reasons for not retiring. Life as we are living it. We talked about Stu, of course, about how his artwork changed over time (there was a remarkable cover for A Woman's APA, I think it was, from 1977 that looked nothing like anything else I've seen of his), and about how good he was at pastiche, whether of Walt Kelly or the Fleischer Brothers or Carl Barks. Around 1pm we all sat down in rows of folding chairs, and Luke McGuff got the program going by reading something that John Purcell had written about Stu in his fanzine Askance. John's piece related a memory of a Minicon where Stu and Ken Fletcher sat around drawing cartoons as fast as they could and handing them out to avid fanzine publishers. Luke then opened the floor to whoever wanted to say something, and Jerry got up and passed along what he remembered of an email message the Swedish fan Anders Bellis had sent about how Stu had welcomed him on his first visit to the US and introduced him to American fandom. Jerry then launched into his own memories of Stu, and it became a group conversation about our old friend.

The portrait of Stu that emerged would have been familiar to anyone who knew the man: the kindness, the sweetness, the wit, the fascination with history and trivia and toys, the shyness, the warmth, the humor, and the love for Andi. Kate Schaefer mentioned how oblivious he was to the amorous intentions of the women around him, and Andi talked about how she broke through that. Jokes were told about his infamous NYC apartment kitchen, with dirty dishes sealed in boxes. Jokes were told about his idiosyncratic driving. Andy Hooper talked about hiring Stu to work for the Collecting Channel in that brief time when good money flowed to fans who wrote about toys and other collectible items. Andi said it was the best job Stu ever had, being paid for his writing.

Sharing Memories
Andi shares stories

Andi told us a lot of stories. There were so many great ones, but she also told us the devastatingly sad story of the fall which ultimately took his life. What's devastating about it is that Stu had recovered from his stroke to the point that they were about to let him go home to live with Andi in the new apartment in Lake City. He had just test-driven a mobile chair for the first time, and the ability to use one of those was the final step in the process of going home. He was sitting on his bed, firmly planted with both feet on the ground and his right hand grasping the rail on his bed and the left hand propped on the mattress. The therapist who was with him looked away for a moment, and he fell off the bed. Andi stressed that he fell to his left, which was the side that hadn't been weakened by the stroke. The theory is that something must have happened to him -- a seizure or perhaps another small stroke. Something that momentarily incapacitated him. The therapist, needless to say, was utterly horrified, as of course was everybody else.

It's heartbreaking. Andi's love for Stu came through loud and clear, and she talked about how after they got together she used to ask him, "Why didn't we find each other earlier? Where were you when I was 25 and making stupid choices?" The depth of her loss is immeasurable, but at one point as Andi was telling us stories of all the sweet things Stu did for her, Jane Hawkins said, "I envy you." It seemed a contrary thing to say to someone who has lost her beloved, but Andi knew exactly what Jane was saying: Andi had the good fortune to live with her soulmate for a time. They seemed perfectly matched in so many ways, and they clearly delighted in their time together.

Andi told us that Valentine's Day was a big day for them, and every year Stu would give her a heart made out of different material -- shell, metal, plastic, wood. She said that the first Valentine's Day after his stroke, she told him that she wanted an old-fashioned red enamel heart. "That's trite," Stu replied. That's how she knew that Stu was still the Stu she knew and loved.

Good memories. It was a good event, and I was glad to share in it. I believe further memorial events are planned for Sasquan later this year.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 16th, 2015 08:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for the report. Had timing been different, I could and would have been there, so this is the best substitute.
Feb. 16th, 2015 09:06 pm (UTC)
Many distant friends were there in spirit. I hear a toast was raised at Boskone this weekend.
Feb. 17th, 2015 01:13 am (UTC)
Yes, Laurie Mann arranged for a memorial toast to Stu in the pub at Boskone, timing it to coincide with the time you were looking at the display boards of Stu's art at the Lake City Community Center. Fourteen of us gathered around 3 tall tables, and it was there I learned (or relearned, if I'd simply forgotten) that Stu drove. Mention was made of red lights and a certain lack of stopping for them.... And, yes, we shared much laughter, all of it mixed in with sadness and loss.

It meant a lot to me to be there, to raise our glasses together...to Stu, and again to Andi.
Feb. 17th, 2015 04:18 am (UTC)
That was probably the same driving related story we shared. Funny! An aetheric communication.
Andi Malala Shechter
Feb. 17th, 2015 05:09 am (UTC)
In situations where it was suggested that we "raise our glasses", I offer this instant and very Stu memory. He would raises his glasses - by taking them off and lifting them high in the air.
Feb. 20th, 2015 01:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this!
Feb. 20th, 2015 03:41 pm (UTC)
Cheers, Laurie. I've seen some good photos from the Boskone wing of the memorial too.
Feb. 20th, 2015 10:51 pm (UTC)
I really wanted to be there, but *damn* I had committed myself to be elsewhere before the date was announced. Thankfully, we had had a small gathering for Stu at Potlatch the week before.
Feb. 21st, 2015 03:33 am (UTC)
Hopefully we will have more remembrances at Sasquan.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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