Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Farewell To A Friend

The PopCulteer
July 22, 2022

On July 14, 2022, Susan (Kathy) Duffy Stover, a wife, mother, grandmother and friend, passed away, one day before what would have been her 58th birthday.

Kathy was an avid reader of PopCult, and I’m very glad that I could call her a friend.

The reason for that is, a long time ago, Kathy and I were married. Our marriage was short, rocky and didn’t end well.

It was more than twenty years before we got back in contact. I didn’t know where she lived or if she was even stlll alive when she started leaving comments on this blog. Since she was using her new married name, I had no idea it was her for a few months.

When it hit me, I sent her an email, and we caught up on each other’s lives. I was flattered and more than a little weirded out to discover that, while I was totally in the dark about what had happened to Kathy after we broke up, she had managed to keep track of my career. Her grandmother had sent her newspaper clippings, so she knew that I had recovered from our break-up (it took a couple of years) and had a successful radio career.

She read Michael Lipton’s profile of me in the Charleston Gazette, and later she knew I was writing about animation with Melanie Larch for that same Charleston Gazette.

And she would pepper her emails with riffs on jokes I’d made in PopCult. That reminded me why Kathy was so important in the early chapters of my life.

Kathy was my first audience. I’ve mentioned before in PopCult that this blog is an extension of my life-long habit of saying “Hey, check this out, it’s really cool!”

Kathy was the first person who really listened to me. We met during my senior year in High School. She was two years behind me, but we were in first period Art Class together. My plan, as with most of my high school classes, was to keep to myself, do my weird art, get an A+, and not really engage with my fellow students.

But on the first day of class, I’d got my spot picked out at a table and my head in my sketchbook when a cute little redhead with big hair, big boobs and braces sits down beside me and started talking to me. I was about as socially awkward as a person could be back then. I had a very small circle of friends and they were all guys and I never went on dates or messed with proms.

But Kathy kept sitting there, and over the course of the school year I turned her on to Kate Bush, Monty Python, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Bonzo Dog Band, National Lampoon and all sorts of other things that had formed my tastes and would form much of hers. I don’t know if I influenced her views on politics and religion, or if she influenced mine, but we had those views in common to the day she died. Kathy always seemed to seek out the “misfits” and non-conformists, but she absolutely hated using those terms. She befriended a lot of us on the outside.

We became friends. Nothing more. Then I graduated, spent a couple of years regretting that I’d never asked her out on a date, and moved on to college.

Two years later we met again in college, and our friendship picked up where it had left off. She had lost the braces and picked up a fiancée. I didn’t really tell anyone, but I was emotionally reeling from having my entire circle of college friends die over the previous summer in a series of car wrecks and other accidents. I wasn’t so much socially awkward as I was shell-shocked at that point.

Kathy was among the first people to see me perform in front of a camera in a TV Production class, when I had to step in to do comedy sketches I’d written for somebody else, and then they no-showed.

Like I said, Kathy was my first audience. At the end of that semester, Kathy’s parents moved to Florida, and she had to drop out, broke off her engagement and went along with them, and she hated it. She was absolutely miserable, and to cheer her up I started recording and sending audio cassettes through the mail (God this was a long time ago). It was me talking, joking and playing new music for her to discover. We traded tapes for a year and that led us to make a huge mistake.

We fell in love, and got married. Some day I will tell the whole story of our marriage. Parts of it are hilarious.  Parts of it are sweetly romantic.  Parts of it aren’t very pleasant at all. We were broke all the time and had no social life. There were also medical issues adding pressure that neither of us were emotionally equipped or mature enough to handle.

What ensued eventually screwed up what would have otherwise been a deep and lasting life-long friendship. I was convinced she hated me (she had told me that repeatedly). She moved on with her life and after a couple of shaky years I did too. The weird part of this is that, Kathy and I never dated. We didn’t really go out much while we were married. I didn’t really go out on my first real date with anyone until two years after our divorce. If Johnny Rock hadn’t dragged me out to The Charleston Playhouse, I may have never matured socially into the semi-normal person I am today.  That was when my life really began. I made life-long friends at the Playhouse and that’s where I met Melanie, who is my everything and has been since 1990.

Kathy could be a warm, kind and loving soul, but she could also be hot-headed, resentful and acerbic, and she had a vicious tongue that she could wield like a ninja. I don’t think she’d mind me saying that. She was proud of her Irish roots. She wanted to be friends again, and since I was emotionally healed from our time together, I wanted that too. We both realized that, no matter how painfully it ended, our brief marriage was key in making both of us the people we wanted to become. I wouldn’t change a thing and I don’t believe Kathy would either.

I can’t imagine why she didn’t want to stay with me.

I only got to see Kathy once since 1986.  In 2008 she was in town and I took her and her family out to Olive Garden (her choice). Kathy wanted to meet Mel, but this was during the run of CYAC’s first production of “Jack The Ripper” and my soulmate was on stage playing Mary Kelly at the time. It was a fun and amusingly awkward dinner. Kathy’s husband, Dave, was perfect for her and she has three great kids, Lauren, Sarah and Kyle. Kathy was delighted that I had found Mel, because she said Mel was perfect for me.

I was relieved to see that she had finally attained the peaceful existence that she’d always wanted. She seemed happy, if not a little perplexed, that I was happy and successful with PopCult and Radio Free Charleston. We were happy for each other.

The last few years she’d battled cancer and other health issues and we basically only got in touch once or twice a year, for birthday wishes or to share cartoons on Facebook. It was still nice to know, once in a while, that I could drop her a line and say, “Hey, check this out, it’s really cool!”

I’m going to miss that.

Final arrangements and a celebration of life for Kathy have been scheduled for Sunday, July 24, 2022 from 2-4PM at the Haisley Funeral Homes Tribute Center at 2041 SW Bayshore Blvd, in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

A PopCult Note: I’m fairly well certain that, if she could, Kathy would read this and declare, “My God, he took my obituary and made it all about him!”  While she was almost alway supportive, she was also always prepared to pull out a needle and deflate my ego. I’m going to miss that, too.

 

I win! (It’s an in-joke that she’d love)

5 Comments

  1. Sig Riley

    Rudy, You did a great job with this! I will miss Kathy greatly! You are right—she was drawn to us misfits—me being the new kid at DHS, trying to fit in with kids who had gone to school together all of there lives—and there was Kathy to make it all right! Miss you Kat! Siggy

  2. Jennifer S.

    This was a lovely tribute and interesting dive into your past. It motivated me to comment here so you know you still have a constant reader / audience member since the early days – it’s probably nice to know who’s appreciating your art and recommendations. (Past reminders: you edited a short student film of mine on Darwin and were there recording when I played the diva to Mel’s ingenue in a bizarre adaptation of Phantom in the early 90’s, and the falling chandelier missed its mark and bashed me on the noggin) – Jennifer p.s. She was right; Mel IS perfect for you!

    • Rudy Panucci

      I absolutely remember you, Jennifer. That was back when I had a chain of VCRs wired together so I could edit video. Hope you’re doing well.

  3. Terry Wicker

    I worked with Kathy and her mother Dee at Henriksen Engineering for a few years! She was a tell it like she saw it type! Sweet lady full of life like her Mother! Condolences to the Family!
    Terry Wicker

  4. David Stover

    Rudy, this was beautifully written. Thank you. I too shared the deflating needle, more times than I can remember. I have thought that we all owe Kathy a debt in her part of making us who we are, and us in making her into who she became. We weren’t always in tune but we always backed each other up. I’m happy I was able to have two wonderful children with her (Sarah and Kyle, who both have a goofy streak in them donated by both parents) and to have a part in raising Lauren, and to provide a decent life for and with her. We will all miss her.

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