The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

In Memory of Victor

Regular readers of my blog (both of you) know that most of the time, I attempt to be funny and lighthearted. Today we're going to take a slight detour and aim toward "heartwarming and touching."

Today, November 30, is the 20th anniversary of the death of someone who was very special to me. His name was Victor Saginario, and he was the director of the first repertory I worked in. I worked with Victor for four years and loved him dearly, and every year on this day, I take a little time to remember him and drink a toast to him.

Victor was an unusual looking man. He was short and squat and quite bald, with tremendously thick glasses that made his brown eyes look enormous. He sort of resembled a bulldog in a velour shirt. He had a loud expressive voice and had absolutely no problem with embarrassing his actors at top volume.

I first met Victor in 1981, when I was very young and very inexperienced. I was looking into joining his repertory because I was sick and tired of not having any friends and not having a creative outlet. After my first meeting (during which Victor intimidated me greatly), Victor invited me to an acting tournament at the University of Delaware the following month. I honestly didn't think I'd do very well, but Victor seemed insistent, and I figured that if he had been doing this as long as he had, he must know what he was talking about.

I ended up winning first place.

After that, I was the Golden Girl. Victor installed me as his lead actress, and before I knew it, I was getting cast in everything. I was playing across actors much more experienced than I was, in roles that were difficult, challenging, and very intense. I loved every minute of it.

There's no way I can really describe Victor's kindness. He looked out for me with the sharp eye of a second father. He bought me gifts. He took me into New York several times to see Broadway plays so that I could study professionals. He also became great friends of my parents, and the four of us often did social things together. My parents came to love him as much as I did.

Then, on November 30, 1986, everything came crashing down.

One of my best friends from repertory, Ken, was at my house tutoring me in advanced algebra. As we sat at my desk struggling through problems, his mother called and asked to speak to him. I handed him the phone, and in a few seconds, his face went white. He hung up, turned around, and told me that Victor had been killed on the way back from his family's home in Elmira, New York. He had been there visiting for Thanksgiving.

Chaos ensued. As the word spread throughout the repertory, various actors started wandering into my house, crying, hysterical, and confused. Everyone who showed up had new information, or conflicting stories, and I moved through the house like a zombie.

We finally found out what had happened. On a remote highway in New York, Victor's car had been struck head-on by a drunk driver--a nineteen year old girl named Tammy Brewster. Victor had been killed on impact; Tammy suffered...a broken arm.

A broken arm.

We tried to hold it together. For the entire week, the actors never left each other. Finally, five days later, Victor's funeral was held.

The priest, who knew me, asked if I would be willing to do a reading of John Donne's "Death Be Not Proud" at the funeral mass. Of course I said yes...I hadn't really accepted Victor's death yet, and doing this last "performance" for him may help me move on and get past it. So, on the appointed day, with literally hundreds of mourners at the church, I marched up to the altar and read the poem. It wasn't highly dramatic or anything, but it was clear and heartfelt, and I felt a great deal of peace.

Snow fell as Victor was buried. All around me I could hear the soft crying of his friends, students, and family. I still felt unreal. I couldn't cry.

Several days later, we found out the fate of Tammy Brewster, the intoxicated teenager that had killed our friend. It turned out that Tammy's father was a Sheriff in the neighboring town, and, even though Tammy was a known alcoholic, she would be charged only with...failure to keep right. No vehicular manslaughter. Not even a DUI. Just "failure to keep right." She was given a $100 fine and let go, without so much as a point on her license.

And, sitting here writing this, I'm wondering if she knows what today is, and how her incredible stupidity changed the lives of hundreds of people.

God bless you, Victor, wherever you are. I love you and I miss you. This one's for you.

Next time: Back to our usual fun. Promise!


  • At 7:22 PM, Blogger Algae said…


    Victor sounds like he was a wonderful man. Thank you for sharing your memories of him.

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    BeowulfGirl, I'm sorry about your friend. It sounds like he was such an amazing person.

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