Remembering Victor

As recently as February 10, Victor Tupitza was updating his regular post in Facebook, a brief, witty comment he called Salmagundi.

A Cuppa 8 Not quite like the olden days, years ago when we were convenienced with a real coffee shop not too distant to our homes. In fact, the 8 o’clock coffee store at a neighborhood shopping area could hardly be avoided. As I recall, its bright red baglike storefront, itself a chamber of redolence, announced its presence far and wide. Drip coming into vogue. Away from Costco and three pound bags, your choice of the 8 O’Clock brand meant a dash to the corner grocery. For the complete experience, the grinder is a must. One had been lying about our kitchen unused for — who rememblers when. Home again and now for that fresh coffee aroma. Does it bring back remembrance of times past? Try it, you will enjoy the entire ordeal. Ahhhhhhhh!

But on February 18 his son Peter posted news of Victor’s death at 94. I hope his passage was easy. My first though was that he was now reunited with his dear wife Sally, who he called Sarah Helen, and never ceased adoring.

For years Victor and I had been reading and commenting on each other’s social media comments. He loved it when readers responded to Salmagundi and he usually offered a thoughtful observation on one of my blogs – usually by email because he could never figure out how to post a comment on the blog itself.

I met Victor in 1972 when I joined the American Baptist Division of Communication as a news writer. Early on, Victor was arranging media interviews with Navy Chaplain Andrew Jensen who had been famously acquitted of accusations of adultery by Navy wives and was promoting his book, The Trial of Chaplain Jensen. The sordid tale had been made into a television movie starring James Franciscus, although when Andy Jensen sat at our office coffee table I thought he looked more like a forelorn Don Knotts.

Victor had arranged for Jensen to be interviewed at KYW-TV in downtown Philadelphia and he worried he might not have time to negotiate Philly traffic, park the car, and get the chaplain to the studio on time. He proposed to Frank Sharp, then head American Baptist News Service, that I drive them to the studio and keep circling the block until the interview was done. Frank said no.

“Shit,” Victor said. But Andy made it to the live broadcast on time to continue his fleeting fifteen days of fame.

The director of the communication division was Norman R. De Puy, a tall, charismatic, editor with a rare knack for turning a phrase. Victor and Norman had been classmates at Eastern Baptist College and Thelogical Seminary and their daily banter included stories and insider jokes that were unprintable by 1970s standards. They endlessly compared each other’s writing styles and Victor endured it when Norman said one of his paragraphs was “cryptic.” Norman, who was born in coal country Pennsylvania but thought of himself as French, said Victor’s sometimes inscrutable writing style “is because he’s Russian. He thinks like a potato head.”

Even so, Norman admired Victor’s sometimes audacious style. When Norman was recovering from major abdominal surgery, he reported without embarrassment that he must be progressing well because he was urinating on his own. Immediatly, a press release on American Baptist News service stationery appeared on the office news board:

DE PUY PEE PEES

“It’s a good sign,” said his physician. “But I won’t be satisfied until he takes a good, healthy crap.”

Usually news service press releases stuck to the hard truth, but not always. In the mid-seventies, when outdoor screens were added to windows of the circular American Baptist office building, Victor decided the truth of the matter was not interesting enough. A couple years ago I memorialized the incident in cartoon form:

Victor said he enjoyed the depiction but denied he ever wore plaid baggie pants in the seventies. I insisted he did because it wasn’t the kind of memory that fades from your mind.

Throughout the years we were colleagues, Victor and I traveled together to many American Baptist meetings, sometimes sharing hotel rooms. He was always a reassuring companion. We sat next to each other on a flight to Puerto Rico. As the plane gained altitude it made a sudden descent to avoid near-by aircraft and I white-knuckled my arm rest. Victor smiled and touched my arm. “It’s okay,” he said. “We’ll make it.”

After Norman left the office to accept a call as pastor of a Baptist church in Michigan, Victor moved to Washington, D.C. to edit Report from the Capitol, the magazine of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. During that time his wife Sally died and Victor continued to live alone in his house in Maryland. He welcomed visitors, and one Veteran’s Day weekend he hosted three of my daughters and me so we could have an inexpensive place to say when we toured the D.C. monuments. He was charming and doting and our D.C. visit is a happy memory.

In 1981, when I was in Los Angeles to report on the American Baptist Evangelism Conference, I visited Frank Sharp who was retired in Santa Barbara. I sent word ahead that I wanted to bring greetings from his former colleagues and he met me in a small garden outside the home. Frank was suffering from bone cancer and was leaning heavily on a cane.

Victor knew I was planning to visit Frank and, despite their occasionally strained relationship, asked me to bring his good wishes.

“Victor. Victor,” Frank said thoughtfully, pressing both hands on his cane. “Yes, Victor. Very capable. A pain in the ass. But very capable.”

The next time I saw Victor I quoted Frank without embellishment. Victor tossed back his head and laughed.

It’s the laughing Victor I see in my head this morning as I think back on the years I knew him.

About Philip E Jenks

Philip, a synodical deacon in the ELCA Metropolitan New York synod, is a retired communicator for American Baptist Churches USA, the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches, the U.S. National Council of Churches, and two Philadelphia area daily newspapers. He and his spouse, the Rev. Dr. Martha M. Cruz, are the parents of six adults and are members of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rye Brook, N.Y. They live in Port Chester, N.Y.
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1 Response to Remembering Victor

  1. tddepuy says:

    Dear Mr. Jenks,

    As sad as I am to learn of Victor’s passing, I am equally gladdened by your tribute article. I remember him as a good natured, witty person with a serious intent. Your article illustrated that. Thank you for sharing your memories with the rest of us. He’s missed.

    Tim DePuy

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