Volume 75, Number 13 | August 17 - 23, 2005

Villager photo by Ramin Talaie

Former City Councilmember Antonio Pagan, of whom Vincent was a key ally, after the funeral.

'Soldier with a pen' comes home to Village a last time

By Lincoln Anderson

Steven Vincent came back to the East Village from Iraq last week, about the time he had been planning to.

Vincent, 49, had intended to come home to E. 11th St. this month to work on a book on the historic city of Basra, from where he had been reporting. But on Aug. 2 he was kidnapped and shot to death by masked gunmen in that city, becoming the first American journalist to be attacked and killed in the Iraq war. It’s believed his exposés on the rise of Shiite fundamentalists and insurgents in Basra are what led to his death.

Vincent was waked at Peter Jarema Funeral home on E. Seventh St. last Saturday and Sunday, followed by a funeral Monday at Middle Collegiate Church on Second Ave. The church was filled to capacity with his friends and family.

As he lay in an open wooden coffin — the hole from the fatal bullet covered over on his head by a mortician’s artifice — Vincent’s two best friends spoke, recalling him as a man of great intellect and provocative ideas with a thirst to always learn about life.

Jon Roth, who knew Vincent growing up in California from when they were boys and who was his college roommate, said Vincent defied categories.

“He was a soldier whose weapon was the pen,” he said. “Steve’s words explored the murky ambiguity between conservative and liberal. He often surprised or annoyed people when he went against their perceived wisdom.”

Roth noted that Vincent, in everything he did, interacted with people, whether it was hitchhiking to New York from the West Coast or working as a late-night taxi driver or guard at the Met. He called him a quintessential American — son of an Armenian mother and a father who boasted U.S. Civil War veteran ancestors — in search of the melting-pot dream.

Choking back emotion, his voice filled with rage, Roth turned to look at Vincent and said, “The evil man who killed him could still his voice — but not his vision, not his words.”

Verne Dertimanis, another college friend, recalled days at U.C. Berkeley, road trips and digging the Clash, Pistols and Springsteen. Ultimately, Vincent found the Bay Area “too confining” and left for New York City.

“He was an American hero,” he said.

In the coffin with Vincent were mementoes to accompany him on his final journey: Frank Sinatra CD’s, a cigar, Bombay Sapphire gin, books by Nietzsche and Jung, a Spider-man comic, flash cards — like the ones he had been using to work on his French, Arabic and Latin.

“Steven, like Jesus, was murdered doing what he thought necessary,” said Jacqueline Lewis, Middle Collegiate Church’s senior minister. She noted Vincent’s probing mind had kept her on her toes in theology classes she led.

Lisa Ramaci, Vincent’s widow, his parents and sister gave him last kisses goodbye before the coffin lid was closed.

Throughout the service, Ramaci clutched an American flag folded military style into a triangle. Afterwards she said, no, it wasn’t from the government, but from the funeral home.

“The government gave me nothing,” she said, “except his embalmed body.”

The crowd was diverse, reflecting Vincent’s wide-ranging interests. There were people from the art world, including from Art & Auction magazine, where he formerly worked, and from Sotheby’s, where Ramaci worked. One of the twin hosts from “Antiques Roadshow” was among them. There were the neighbors and community members and former Councilmember Antonio Pagan whom Vincent worked with in the early and mid-1990s to fight for cleaning up Tompkins Square Park and making the streets safer. Vincent was one of Pagan’s most vocal supporters. There were even some people from the fetish world, still another interest of Vincent’s.

“Steven was my escort to many an event,” said one women wearing tight, black latex and tall high heels, after the service.

When he was writing for the East Villager, helping Pagan and serving briefly as a member of Community Board 3, Vincent had famously sparred — once again, in words — with the East Village squatters and anarchists over Tompkins Square Park, the homeless, the squats and quality of life.

Last Monday morning, a police detail was posted in front of the church. An officer said they were there not exactly at the request of Ramaci, but that she had made a phone call, since there were “some people that didn’t like” Vincent that she didn’t want to disrupt things. But there were no disruptions.

Vincent was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. His friends and Ramaci plan to plant a tree for him and buy one of the paving stones that are being used to raise funds for the park to be engraved for him in Tompkins Square Park.

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