In Loving Memory: Vaunda K. Perry, 1951-2008

One year ago today, our dear friend Vaunda passed away after a long fight with sarcoma. Soon afterwards, writer Gloria Oliver posted this on her blog, and old-school anime god Dave Merrill recorded a few of his own memories. I was thinking of Vaunda when I started this blog a few months ago, and today seems like a good point to say a little more about her, rather than just about my feelings. Memorials are the markers we lay down in time to point towards eternity. Eternity may be only a theory, but Vaunda is worth remembering.

America’s first anime fan club, the Cartoon/Fantasy Organisation, started up in California in 1977. Battle of the Planets and Star Blazers – the American titles for Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman and Uchu Senkan Yamato – hit American TV in 1978 and 1979. Vaunda was active in those early days of anime fandom, and in 1983 she became a founder member of the C/FO’s new chapter in Orlando, Florida. She loved Gatchaman and was a member of still-running Gatchaman APAzine Bird Scramble! from its foundation in 1986.

She was an artist, always willing to contribute to zines and shared stories as well as making pictures of her favourite characters. (She created the mascot for her CFO chapter in Florida, in turn inspiring other small-press artists like David C. Matthews and Charles Treadwell.) She was part of Wyvern Web Graphics, a small venture importing goods from Japan for American fans. She was a sharer and a doer, and in those pre-Internet days when zines, clubs and tables at conventions were the only links between fans, she was one of the people who enabled anime fandom to survive and spread.

In 1988, she followed her growing interest and moved to Japan, where she immediately felt at home. Like many foreigners she started out teaching English there, and the apartment she shared with two other teachers became known as the ‘House of Three Gaijin’. Later she went to work for a small Japanese company in Sakura, a dormitory town near Narita Airport, helped to found a new subsidiary, and became a vice-president – despite being foreign and female, two considerable handicaps in corporate Japan at the time. She was active in her community. I spent several early mornings during our visits helping her with leaf-sweeping and litter-picking on her quiet street, and saw first-hand how she was liked and respected by her Japanese neighbours.

As I said at the beginning, Vaunda was in my mind the day I started this blog.  I’ve found that over time I think of my beloved dead less often. I miss my grandmother and my parents still,  I miss dead friends, but not with the constant pain of the first months of loss. Sometimes I forget they’ve gone. It’s the same with Vaunda. Every now and then I see a book or a CD and think, Vaunda will like that, I should pick it up. Then I think, no.

She was taken from us very suddenly. She’d been fighting her cancer for two years. From the day she knew her enemy, she fought it like they taught her in the military, with a realistic assessment of the situation, an awareness of the enemy’s strength and a determination never to give in. She knew none of us beats death, but she wasn’t going to let the enemy dictate the terms of engagement. In the midst of death, she was in life, around and through the radiotherapy and chemotherapy and spells of hospitalisation and treatment. She did as much work as she could on the company she had helped to found and steer towards success, spent time with her partner and her beloved dogs, stayed in touch with friends. She lived every minute she was given.

We kept in touch by email and phone, but when we went to Japan in January 2008, things were not going so well and she asked us not to visit. In July, I got a call from her to say that the doctors thought the tumour was almost beaten. She was allowed home for weekends, she could play with the dogs, she was easing back into work with sessions on the computer at home and in hospital. Then a routine check revealed that the tumour was growing again, so fast and aggressively that there was no realistic option but palliative care. She expected to have a few months, perhaps a year, time to see friends and say goodbye. In the event, she had less than two weeks. On 27 August she died from total organ failure.

Now she’s part of history, not time. Our present-day obsession with celebrity is an acknowledgement that all but a few of us are only a tiny part of history, that the marks we make on consciousness are restricted to those in our own small circle. Sometimes I think we’re in danger, as a species, of forgetting that those brief points of contact are still important. During one lifetime, we meet only a few thousand people at most, and become intimate with far fewer: but the impact we make on those few can be just as transformative as the mass-marketed impact of celebrity. Vaunda made her impact in a small circle, but she made it in a big way.

Rest in peace.

11 thoughts on “In Loving Memory: Vaunda K. Perry, 1951-2008

  1. Oh wow…I never met Vaunda Perry, but I had seen her artwork in various books and magazines over the years since becoming an anime fan in the late 1980s.

    Thank you for this, and my condolences. It is sad that many anime and manga fans today are not aware that long before the days of TokyoPop, there were many non-Japanese artists–American, English, French, etc.–who were creating anime-influenced artwork. Their efforts influenced me and made me realize that you _could_ create such work and show it to the world at large.

    • Vaunda touched so many people’s lives, not only through fandom but through her work and her community. There are so many people today who believe that only the famous and celebrated are influential, but I think each of us has far more power to influence than we realise. Vaunda certainly reinforced that belief, in life and in death. There are many people who will miss her even more than we do, especially those who were part of her daily life in Japan, and I hope they can take some comfort from the fact that she is missed all over the world.

    • Thanks for getting in touch. I never knew your name, although I knew Vaunda had been married. She liked to keep certain things private, so I didn’t pry. I am sorry for your loss. I’ve also just heard via email from her old high school in Jacksonville, where she is still remembered with affection.

      • It just dawned on me. Not only was Vaunda a talented artist (she did not realize her talent when we were married, but I did) she was a damn good cook as well. I remembered because tonight I am cooking a dinner (sausage, peppers and stewed tomatoes) that she first made for me all those years ago.

        Vaunda never used a recipe. She would just whip up a dish from scratch with “this will work in it.” Didn’t matter what she put in, it always worked.

        She baked a MARVELOUS pumpkin pie from scratch, and her cream puffs were out of this world. But that was 30 years ago and I just thought the rest of the world would like to know.

        Marty Rubinstein

      • I can confirm that she was a truly amazing cook. She loved the fresh produce she could get locally in Japan, and used to make the most marvellous meals from scratch, just as you described.

  2. Thank you for sharing with us your memories, Helen. Vaunda and I were pen pals for many years. Unfortunately in recent times I could not answer her letters as a result of a very difficult time of my life. I learned of his death through the blog by Gloria Oliver. For days I thought Vuanda and inside me I felt that something bad had happened. You can imagine what I felt when I read the news of her death. Our friendship was something special because although I was unable to express my emotions (my English is horrible!) Vuanda could understand my feelings and affection I felt for her. She wrote little of his life, but I could see if she was happy or sad. There was a bond that went beyond the language, I can not explain. My difficult economic conditions would never have allowed to go to Japan to meet her in person but inside I cultivated the dream that one day I might embrace or at least hear the sound of his voice.
    I still have all his letters and the things that she sent me. They are precious memories from which it will separate me ever. Vaunda came into my life and in my heart forever. A warm greeting to you all. (Giancarlo Dell’Ernia, Turin – ITALY)

    • I’m so glad to hear from you, and to hear your memories of Vaunda. I understand what you mean by “a bond that went beyond language.” She was loved and admired by so many people around the world, and she seemed to have a great gift of understanding. In difficult times she was a true friend. Steve and I always wished that one day she would come to England so that we could show her our country and take care of her as she always took care of us in Japan, but it wasn’t to be.

      Friends and loved ones are the only true treasures. Those of us who loved Vaunda have lost someone irreplaceable, but just as you say, our precious memories will be with us forever.

      • Vaunda was a dear friend. We served in the same shop in the United States Air Force and in the same shop at the Kennedy Space Center. I will never forget her as long as I live. It’s difficult to write this and not become saddend. But I know she would not want that. After all she did say she lived a good life. I had the greatest respect for her humanity, kindness, spirit and intelligence. She was a talented artist. She put up with the foolishness of my youth, but lucky for me, she overlooked that and was always a true friend.
        Forever,
        Jay

      • She touched so many lives. I’ve never met most of the people who have emailed me about Vaunda, but she made a huge impression on every one of us. She was a great lady.

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