The sorrow in fandom following the death of Walt Willis last October was somewhat muted, as he had been ill from the effects of a stroke for about a year with no real hope of recovery. With Walt's passing and the death of James White (also in 1999), the era of Irish Fandom is now over; all we have left are memories. There probably will be many fanzine articles written in the next year about various IF members, such as John Berry's remembrance of Walt that opened this issue. Here's another.
'Bob and Walt, A Remembrance' by Joyce Scrivner; 
  illo by Charlie Williams
I had planned to attend Skycon -- the British Eastercon -- in 1978. During my attempt to buy a membership I developed a long running correspondence with Dave Langford, who was on Skycon's committee. I had no idea how to purchase an 'international money order' and neither did my post office, so I sent some money off to Washington, D.C., and in return I received an odd receipt with original saying how much money had been deposited. I sent the original to England and kept the receipt, but I don't think anyone at Skycon ever figured out how to turn it into cash, and I've long since lost the receipt. But the end result was a flurry of letters between Skycon and me -- and my friendships with Dave Langford and Martin Hoare.

After managing not to go to Skycon, I was committed to the idea of attending Seacon, the 1979 Worldcon. And I was entranced by the idea of driving down to Brighton with Harry Bell (Seacon GoH and my host for the previous week) and then staying with Dave and Hazel Langford the week following the Worldcon. I enjoyed spending time with Harry in Newcastle, but I recall that I spent most of my time at pubs or in poorly lit apartments with loud music. I also found the drive down to Brighton as odd compared to driving around the US; I still find the British roundabout (versus the traditional US methods to limit access to freeways) strange and disconcerting. However, after we arrived at the convention, I seldom saw Harry -- he was much too busy being honored -- a great deal of the honoring consisting of drinking with friends and going to parties. Dave Langford permitted me to follow him around, though. I met Hazel (his wife) early in the convention and then she disappeared into the film room with several balls of knitting wool and only briefly surfaced for meals and the Hugo Awards ceremony. Dave, though, hauled me off to the fan room immediately. I was treated to beer and bitter and ale and introduced to Britfen like Joseph Nicholas, Greg Pickersgill and Leroy Kettle.

Dave and I didn't spend much time at programming. We briefly visited the opening ceremonies -- until a small group of bagpipers started marching through the room and Dave jumped up cradling his head and dashed away. He whimpered to me in the fan room (where I managed to catch up with him) over a pint of bitter that bagpipers made his hearing aids squeal. I just shrugged and ordered another round.

I was part of another exodus later in the weekend, this one from the fan lounge. At the time, I wasn't sure what it was for, but if the people I was talking with were going somewhere I'd join them. We ended up in the main program hall, and it was fairly full -- there were more people in it than for Opening Ceremonies, and most of the people appeared to be British fans. I certainly did not expect the program item to be a soft-spoken gentleman with an Irish lilt. It was Bob Shaw, and his "Serious Scientific Talk" merged science fiction and humor and fandom all in a delightful way. Following his presentation, I was introduced to him in the fan room and he bought me a pint of bitter as well. After that I became a convert, joining the large enthusiastic group of people who would willingly leave the bar, anywhere and any time, to listen to him.

I didn't see any more of Bob -- except at a distance -- during the convention. When there weren't parties going on I was busy spending my time as part of the British/Australian cricket team -- where I bowled badly at Kevin Smith. The next place I saw Bob Shaw was at Aussiecon Two in 1985, but we pretty much passed each other during the days and missed each other at night. I had stayed with Marc Ortlieb for a few days prior to the convention; Bob stayed with Marc the week following. The next year, Bob was Toastmaster at ConFederation in Atlanta, and it seemed to me an appropriate time to have him visit Minneapolis as well. I chaired the Fallcon (the local MinnStf relaxacon) that year, so I wrote Bob suggesting that he plan a side trip to Minneapolis following the Worldcon. He answered that he already had a side trip - to Birmingham, Alabama, for another small convention two weeks following ConFederation -- but he'd be happy to come to Minneapolis between them.

I had bought my own condo a couple years earlier (it's still unfinished) and I had a lot of room, but only one double bed. So I gave Bob and his wife Sarah my bedroom and shifted enough clothes into the library to keep me well dressed, and I slept on the single bed there. Bob had caught a case of the 'convention crud' during ConFederation and he didn't really want to do much. So rather than take three days vacation from work I only took one. I showed Sarah the washing machine and explained the television to them, introduced them to the cats, and left them on their own. Bob asked about the handmade oatmeal soap -- I buy in the local farmer's market -- and wondered if he could get a recipe for it. On my one day of vacation, I loaded all our luggage into my car, and gave them a ten cent tour of the Twin Cites -- we went around Lake Harriet and down Minnehaha Parkway to the falls and the Mississippi River. We crossed over to St. Paul and drove down the elegance of Summit Avenue to St. Paul Cathedral, and I barely avoided a blue car that aimed to bash Bob's door into his flesh. Eventually we arrived at the Sunwood Inn (a small hotel built into a historical train depot) just as one of my friends from work arrived with the beer kegs for the convention. The hotel wasn't filled with fans -- there were only a hundred or so at the convention -- but the hot tub and jacuzzi area held that year's DUFF winners -- Nick Stathopoulos, Marilyn Pride and Louis Morley -- and the con suite had Nate Bucklin's filking.

illo by Charlie Williams Denny Lien had provided a wide selection of bottled beers for the next day, -- Bob, Mark Digre, Erik Biever, and Denny conducted a 'tasting' to see if they could label them correctly. I've recently found the sheets they filled out and mostly they have short comments -- very dark and heavy, too light and frothy.

Bob also did a short reprise of his latest Serious Scientific Talk for a small crowd of locals, but mostly we just sat around and talked. Before he left on Monday after the convention, back to Birmingham and then on to England and home, Bob presented me with a small stained glass panel called the Lonely Spaceman. (He later sent a note asking if I'd found Sarah's hairdryer, which I eventually located under the bed.)

The next year, 1987, was Conspiracy, another British Worldcon in Brighton. Dave Langford was Special Fan Guest so I saw very little of him at the convention. I was busy part of the time, too -- I co-hosted (with Joan Marie Verba) a Minneapolis in `73 party, where all the Brits came by until our beer had (rapidly) disappeared. Instead of attending the Hugo Awards Ceremony, which I'd decided would be too crowded, I walked into the Metropole Hotel thinking I'd look for people to talk with. I met an elderly gentleman in the lobby and we sat down to tea. It was Walt Willis. And I hadn't even realized he was attending the convention.

illo by Charlie Williams Walt had been spending much of his time at Conspiracy with old friends, people like Eric Bentcliffe and Ethel Lindsay who had been attending conventions since the 1950s. As I talked with him, I felt as if I'd entered a different British fan culture. Many of the younger fans -- D West for instance -- apparently considered some of the older 'Wheels of IF' fanzines to be too placid for their taste. The younger fans' writings were terse and sharp, and they wanted fanzines to be cohesive and literary. The jokes and general pleasant ambiance of the 1950s fandom was deemed too lightweight. However, I found myself enjoying the discussion of the St. Fantony celebration and other older British fan traditions with Walt over tea and crumpets. A couple hours later, we walked out to the cold pebble beach and saw the fireworks which had followed the Awards, but when we attempted to return to the hotel for the evening's parties, the manager had decided the hotel was too full of people and was only letting hotel guests inside, and even then only as someone else left. The crowd was full of gossip -- supposedly Iain Banks had climbed the balconies because he wanted to get to his party. There didn't appear to be any point for Walt to stand around outside on a cold evening, so we said good-bye -- Walt went off along the beach to the place he was staying and I waited until there was finally room to enter the hotel. As a postscript to the convention and our meeting, Walt sent me a copy of his newly published Hyphen 37 that autumn.

Fast forward to autumn 1995. Sarah Shaw had become ill and died a few years earlier, and Bob Shaw had become a much quieter, withdrawn person. But in 1995, Nancy Tucker, a long-time Detroit-area fan, had met Bob at that year's Novacon and they'd fallen head over heels in love. From that point they were inseparable. Late in the autumn of 1995 I received a wedding invitation from them. I was unable to attend, so shortly after the wedding I sent them some hand made oatmeal soap and two sets of towels -- one set had dinosaurs on them and the other was very ornate. I wondered if Nancy or Bob would claim to be a dinosaur. I did hear a little about the wedding via the fannish grapevine, though. I heard how Mike Glicksohn had stood up as Bob's best man. I heard how the hotel where the invited guests stayed had been a continuing party of conversation, and joy from the arrival of the first fans. I also heard how Bob had become more ill as the weekend continued.

A couple of weeks after the wedding, Nancy and Bob were planning to leave for England, but the day of their scheduled departure Bob's heart briefly stopped and he was immediately hospitalized. There was some kind of problem with his liver, and the doctors wanted to keep Bob in the hospital. Bob refused. The stresses on Nancy caused her health to deteriorate as well, and she had problems walking due to back pain. A couple weeks after Bob left the hospital (in early 1996) they finally left Detroit for England. Both of them were in wheelchairs, with a mound of luggage. Misti Anslin, Nancy's daughter-in-law, made the leave-taking sound much like a small exciting (though painful) parade. But a day later there was bad news -- after landing in London, they had stopped to talk with one of Bob's children, and then driven to stay with his son. Bob could not be awaken the next morning. He had died during the night.

When I think about Bob I recall his soft-spoken kindness. He and Sarah had invited me to visit them in the South of England, but they apologized for it not being as scenic as their home in the Lake Country, saying I should have come to see them earlier and more often. Bob was a good writer; I enjoyed reading his short stories, but I had never considered that he might be an artist as well. The small stained glass panel hangs in my bedroom and greets the sun each morning. And when I think of Walt, I recall sitting with him laughing at silly stories -- like we laughed about St. Fantony and the drafty robes they wore and the candlelight which made walking dangerous around the flame.

When I spent time in their company, their soft voices made a different style of fandom live. I was a visitor to a smaller group who didn't rush frantically from computer to television. I belonged to a fandom which felt closer to each other. I miss their presence and the fanzines and writing. I loved resting in their company and listening to their soft voices and laughing thoughts. It was as if I was a welcome visitor to their lives and a slower paced country and fandom. I'll miss them in my life and the words and fanzines they've left us -- while still available -- are not the essence.

All illustrations by Charlie Williams

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