The one and only Rena Vicini

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In Journalism 101 they teach us to tread lightly around the word “unique” to avoid the pitfall of calling something or someone somewhat unique, sometimes unique or very unique.  The word “unique” does not require a modifier because it means “one of a kind.”

At the risk of the University of Kentucky rescinding my journalism degree, I must say Rena Vicini was the uniquest person I ever met, and there aren’t enough modifiers in the English language to describe how shocked and saddened we are to learn of her passing at 62.

Rena was a journalist and writer at heart and I first met her when she was a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader and I was a student working in the UK sports information office.  When there was an opening for a “women’s SID,” as it was called back then, Russell Rice hired Rena with little sports information experience.  She was known to say “Chris taught me everything I know” about sports information (a blatant exaggeration), but really Rena taught all of us more than she will ever know.

When I returned to UK as her boss in 1988, she began calling me her “bossy-wossy-moo-moo,” or “BWMM” for short.  Nonsensical, of course, but also brilliant in the way it connoted both respect and affection and described our good-natured relationship.  I began calling her “Gracie” when she adopted a hairstyle that hinted of Susan Dey’s character on our favorite show at the time, L.A. Law.  We got very little work done on Friday mornings until we finished discussing the previous night’s episode.  I’m not sure she ever recovered from Diana Muldaur falling down that elevator shaft.

Rena was at all times smart, witty, thoughtful, fun and funny.  She never missed a chance to remind you she was a Catholic coal miner’s daughter from Lynch or that she had a nephew nicknamed “Puddin’ Bear.”  If you knew Rena you also knew Joey, Ginnie, Mary Beth, all of Rena’s extended family, and odds are you spent hours at her little white frame house on Clays Mill Road drinking beer and listening to oldies on her jukebox.  She loved UK football and was the eternal optimist, forever convinced next year would be season the Cats would break through their decades-old wall of frustration.  Her friends became family, a huge family, there were so many of them, too many to name.  She introduced her great friend Melanie to one of Rick Pitino’s assistants because she thought they would make a great pair, and she adored Melanie and Herb Sendek and their three beautiful daughters.

Rena was with me in Philly for the infamous UK-Duke-greatest-ever game and if you look at footage of what would have been the most famous play in UK basketball history if not for you-know-who, the Sean Woods shot with 2.1 seconds remaining, you can see Rena looking up at the scoreboard and erupting behind the UK bench.  Totally unprofessional but uniquely Rena.  Later that night, when a macabre group of devastated fans (some of them crying) swarmed the team in the lobby of the Warwick Hotel, Rena and I grabbed Pelphrey, Feldhaus, Farmer & Woods and led them through the restaurant kitchen and out the back door.  Rena was staying at the media hotel so we convened in her room, raided the mini bar and toasted the “Unforgettables” and each other.  We couldn’t get away with that now, but I’m sure glad we did back then.  Cheers.

Although Rena was very good at her job, she would be the first to admit she’d rather be napping, something she did every day at lunchtime and then immediately after work. Everyone knew not to poke the sleeping bear at that Clays Mill Road house until after 6 p.m.  Her lack of fondness for working became a topic we joked about openly with her, and she would laugh the hardest. “Chreeees,” she would say, “you know I don’t like to work.”  We all snickered when she would say “I’m going to (UK) Printing,” which was code for “I’m going home to nap.”  Rena holds a world record that will never be eclipsed for trips to UK Printing.  One night we stayed up until 3 a.m. talking on the phone about work ethic and life in general.  At that time I was on one end of the spectrum and Rena was on the other; we had vastly different definitions of work-life balance.  I vaguely remember saying something about taking pride in our work, but I clearly remember Rena’s words: “Chris, in the end, all that really matters is your family, your friends and being loved.”  She was right, things really should tip off balance in that direction.

When I left UK in 1993, C.M. Newton asked me to recommend a replacement. Rena really wanted the job but I was torn because I knew of another great candidate who had applied. I asked Rick Pitino for his opinion and he said “Chris, that’s a no-braina. Rena is your friend. You always have to go with your friends.” Of course he was right. Rena got the job, and today I’m so grateful to Rick Pitino for giving me the advice that spared me from years of regret.  Not sure I have enough room in my heart today for both sadness and regret.

In the end, Rena got her wish.  She was loved until the moment her heart stopped beating and we will love her until ours give out.  I heard she was found on the couch with the TV on.  A part of me hopes she had been watching a rerun of L.A. Law.

So goodnight, Gracie.  You were the uniquest person I knew, and the world just became a little more dull.

Love,

BWMM

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14 thoughts on “The one and only Rena Vicini

  1. Chris — such a great way to share your emotions — it is cathartic and helps us all see a deeper side to Rena. Thanks for posting. Big UK family love all around. Ty

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  2. Chris…awesome article and reflections…couldn’t read it without crying and laughing…the world is definitely duller without Rena and I will love her until my heart gives out…thanks!! RIP Rena…Love you!

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  3. EXCELLENT writing Chris….Rena was definitely “one of a kind.” The world will NOT be abetter place without. She was very, very special. Got to know her when she came to work at The Courier-Journal in Louisville. Was fortunate to work along side of her, then as a “competitor” when she was at The Herald-Leader in Lexington and maybe, most fortunate, to work with her when she was @ UK. Remember many fun-filled nights after a game spending time with her and her immediate family. Still trying to process all of this today. I know she is in a better place and feel VERY fortunate because knowing Rena made ALL of us better people. Prayers to her family and friends. Just happy to remember the good —GREAT times. There are sooo many. God Bless you Rena Vicini….

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  4. This is so funny Chris… I’d come in every day at 1 and sure enough… more times than not…Rena would be asleep head down on her desk!! She did LOVE her some nappin! Such a warm friend to everyone and a true teacher at heart. Learned so much from her!

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  5. Only knew Rena from college but was very impressed by her enthusiasm , motivation., and love of life. WAs hoping to see her again. Prayers to her family and friends!

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  6. Rena touched every life she encountered. Ocassionally, maybe little abbrasively. It’s time I tell my UK professors that Rena wrote most of my papers. She will live forever in my heart

    Lisa (known by Rena as bone……. short for bonehead)

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  7. I didn’t know Rena, but your post brought her to life and I see why so many people are mourning. Thank you for the tribute – even in death – people CAN touch the life of others.

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  8. OMG. My heart hurts right now. I had no idea until lea wise sent me this link. I was the graduate assistant coach or grad-ass as Rena called it, for the LadyKats from 1981-1983. Rena was such a big part of my life as we traveled together with the team and even went to Japan and Hawaii. Loved her so much and will really miss her!!! Thanks for the great tribute to her. She was one of a kind!

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  9. I was shook up and hurting to hear Rena passed so early. Thanks to John Clay for posting a link to your great tribute Chris. The warm memories helped ease the sadness.

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  10. I’m only 24 now but when I was 21 I met Rena at a very tough point in my life. We both were going through similar things and I was struggling to be a writer and she was successful. I was crying in front of her and a pile of my writing. She took it and read through everything. She was beyond impressed and told me I had a real knack for what I did. She even went so far as to lie to make me feel better and said I could even out write her. I ended up buying her book for a chance to read what she spoke so much about. Naturally, I asked her to sign it. She wrote me a little paragraph ending with our little saying we shared, “don’t forget to love yourself first.” We lost touch and I’ve spent years trying to find her since. I’ve looked off and on over time through the Internet with no luck. Tonight she crossed my mind and I looked her up to find her obituary. My heart aches. I’m so glad I knew this human. I know there was a reason you were in my life and I’m thankful for it. Thank you, Rena. You are a legend to many. Love, your young Lucy Lawless.

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