Rick Lighthiser, RIP
The Beamers have suffered another loss with the death of long-time member Rick Lighthiser, age 54. Rick, who long endured a series of tumorous growths in his thoracic cavity, died at home this past Saturday, January 17. He was surrounded by family, including wife Sarah, and by friends. It is hard for me to think of Rick not surrounded by friends, as he had the ability to make them wherever he went, whatever he was doing.
Despite his many surgical procedures (numbering 14 the last time I asked him, a few years ago), Rick never gave up on the passions of his life, including travel, science fiction, and gaming. A frequent attendee of major gaming conventions like GenCon, Rick was also notably unavailable on Memorial Day weekends, as he regularly attended the Balticon science fiction convention in the Inner Harbor, Baltimore. Inevitably, he would be at the June Beamer meeting, telling us whom he heard and met, introducing us to new authors like Naomi Novik, whose debut novel, His Majesty’s Dragon (first of her Temeraire series of Napoleonic fantasies), became one of our monthly selections. I hold a signed copy of the first chapter chapbook as a souvenir of Rick’s friendship.
Professionally, Rick worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, managing remediation and clean-up efforts at their various construction and maintenance sites. He would occasionally discuss his work if asked, and he was often on the phone with job sites, consulting whenever a problem or question came up, but he preferred to be “off work” when possible. And, to this day, he never revealed the actual nature of the “membrane” that was discovered by one of the PA tunnel projects that he was supervising. He did have a major interest in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, too …
His tastes ran toward fantasy, usually of the epic or “high” variety, but he was never hung up on categories and enjoyed works that crossed over (or rubbed out) genre boundaries, like re-reading C.J. Cherryh’s mix of sf and fantasy, The Gate of Ivrel, for a third time when we picked it. Rick attended as regularly as his health and his travels permitted, and he was faithful in sending in comments via e-mail when he was absent.
I first met Rick as a member of a gaming group that was organized with the help of Jon Nicholas in 1998. When I recruited the gamers for the Beamers, Rick came along happily and was more than ready to read and comment on our choices. I would say “for better or for worse”, but Rick was hesitant to deeply criticize a work, though he would explain his preferences lay elsewhere if a book did not truly work for him. To quote Rick on The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by A.S. Byatt (the January 2003 Beamer book, which meeting was covered by the Star-Ledger):
Djinn exhibits simple yet refreshing storytelling at its best. While reading the first four stories, I could envision a grandmother sitting in a rocking chair by the fireplace, telling these stories to her wide-eyed grandchildren.
The title story is better suited for the mature reader. Although at times I felt the story wandered, I never tired of “seeing” her story with all its detail. Once I started, it was hard for me to put it down, and when I did I was sad that there wasn’t more.
Rick was a truly decent and generous person, a credit to the Beamers, and a good friend. I will miss him, and I am sad that there wasn’t more. Though Rick would chide me otherwise.