Richard Louis “Rick” Vernaci, 68, of Warrenton, died Oct. 18, 2021 in the Haymarket Medical Center of complications from COVID.
Born Oct. 10, 1953, in St. Louis, Mo., he drew joy from fatherhood, family, writing, travel, cooking (especially braciole) and making people laugh themselves breathless.
After pursuing his intellectual curiosities at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., he graduated with a degree in ancient Greek, Hebrew and Latin. His circuitous career path began with a brief stint in a Kansas restaurant and a job as a traveling Rexall Drug representative in rural Texas.
In search of his next move, he went through the Yellow Pages, and in the “N” section found a life-defining option: Newspapers.
Over the next 25 years, the news business took him from the Baytown Sun to the Associated Press in Washington, D.C., with stops in Bismarck, Detroit and Pontiac, Mich.
He reveled in getting paid to learn from experts and found it energizing to hang out with people who were brilliant and funny. He chafed at gratuitous malice and intellectual laziness. Newsrooms provided all the above. Combining his love of language and a pursuit of justice, this was a perfect fit.
He saw the Northern Lights from the top of the world, swam in a volcano-warmed stream in Africa (during a short gig teaching journalism in Ethiopia), stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and in Vatican City enjoyed being saluted by the Swiss Guards so much that he turned around and came back through the restricted entrance again just to make the guys in striped knickers salute one more time.
In addition to covering the installation of Pope John Paul II, he camped in the Arctic Circle for what became a canceled papal visit to the First Nations. His favorite quote from that assignment: “You’re from Detroit? It must be warm down there.”
Early in his career Rick was a strikebreaker ,hired to cross a picket line for the Oakland Press. Later, he was a Wire Service Guild shop steward known for cagy creativity.
When a respected reporter was pulled off his beat to give someone else a chance, Rick staged a conversation about age discrimination. There was no lawsuit planned, but that seasoned colleague fortuitously was reassigned to the White House. Rick was less subtle on behalf of a receptionist denied bathroom breaks and a copyboy who lost an eye after using all his sick leave for the year.
To make extra income, he pulled together the life story of the original Social Security actuary in the book “Within the System.” Stuck at home after shattering his ankle on an icy driveway, he took a stab at fiction and was entertained when “Mama’s Boy” earned a couple bucks in Amazon royalties.
For a few years, he tried his hand at entrepreneurship. Some of Broad Run Consulting’s clients required travel to the Middle East, though the foreign trips Rick talked about the most were to Stonehenge with Andy; to Ireland with Beth, to Rome with Joe, and to Calabria with Bob. “The kids are a hoot,” he wrote to a friend. “I don’t know how I ever lived without them.”
He dropped out of physical therapy after his first brain surgery, declaring that he could do better himself. He ran three times a week and for a while recovered enough concentration to read books, hold a part-time job as a congressional column-writer, and drive a manual-transmission Fiat through the Scilla Mountains.
By the time he needed more surgeries, Rick had run more than 3,000 miles.
He called the post-brain hemorrhage years “the bonus round,” and appreciated the friends who stuck with him as he became less able to keep up his end of the conversation.
“My family is charming and healthy, and I’m the most content I’ve ever been,” he wrote in 2013.
Rick is survived by his wife, Katherine Rizzo; their son, Robert Vernaci of Fredericksburg; his children with former spouse Cecilia Vernaci, Andrew Vernaci of Lacey, Wash., and Elizabeth Vernaci of Falls Church; his siblings, Jolene (Rick) Klinger of Pacific, Mo., Joseph (Charlotte) Vernaci of Washington, Mo., Antonio (Kathi) Vernaci of Rochester, Mich., and Gina (Bill Hillyard) Vernaci of Lakewood, Ohio, along with nieces, nephews and cousins.
He was preceded in death by a son, Joseph Michael Vernaci II; his parents, Joseph Vernaci and Edith Iona Walton; a niece, Tiffany Klinger, and a great-niece, Jessica Klinger.
Visitation will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27, at Moser Funeral Home in Warrenton. We hope guests will be safe and masked. Requiem Mass will take place at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Warrenton.
In his honor, you could:
• Donate to the Fauquier County Public Library or your local library.
• Attend a minor-league baseball game.
• Listen to Vivaldi, Andrea Bocelli, Zydeco and the Beatles on the same afternoon.
• Patronize any business on Main Street in Warrenton.
• Vacation on Nantucket.
• Climb the Aventine Hill in Rome to look through the keyhole of the Knights of Malta.
• Read about antiquity.
• Eat bistecca in Florence.
• Watch the stars come out over the Blue Ridge Mountains on a summer night.
Rick had been vaccinated against coronavirus. If you’re still reluctant, please, think about him. Don’t be the reason someone else gets sick.
Condolences may be offered at www.moserfuneralhome.com