Jan Howard Finder, who was much better known to Route 66 enthusiasts as The Wombat, died Tuesday during his latest bout with cancer, according to friends on his Facebook page and other media outlets.
He was just a few days short of his 74th birthday.
According to one friend, Finder died of multiple organ failure as he was undergoing chemotherapy. Lin Daniel wrote:
I was with him when he died, and I had a friend with me. We probably had the hospital staff wondering about us, because we sat there and told stupid jan stories and laughed a lot.
jan wished to be cremated. And he wanted me to sit shiva for him, which I will. I’m planning on a memorial service in a couple of months, to allow as many people who can make it to do so.
Finder lived in Albany, N.Y., but was born and raised in Chicago. Although Route 66ers knew him as a fellow roadie, he built quite a resume in other fields, including science fiction writing and academic administration. He became a devotee of J.R.R. Tolkien and organized the “First Conference on Middle-earth” in 1969 at the University of Illinois. He became a frequent guest of honor at science-fiction conventions.
I remember him at the International Route 66 Festival in Albuquerque in 2006, where he served as a sort of emcee and was decked out in a tuxedo, including white gloves. He talked freely about his previous bouts with cancer, but was as gregarious and funny as anyone I’ve met. He also frequently posted about Route 66 in his It Comes From Albany blog.
An obituary hadn’t yet been posted in the Albany newspaper. I’ll post a link as soon as it comes over. Locus Online, which posts science-fiction and fantasy news, posted a short obituary.
UPDATE 2/27/2013: The Albany Times-Union published a feature-type obituary. Excerpts:
Jan Howard Finder was the sort of meandering spirit who was passionate, primarily, about being passionate and swore by happy cliches such as “Life is short, eat dessert first!”
He was the ultimate fan, crisscrossing the country and globe to attend science fiction conventions or visit the New Zealand filming locations of “Lord of the Rings.” He had traveled the entire length of Route 66 on multiple occasions, and probably visited all of its museums. […]
“He was the world’s greatest enthusiast,” said Lin Daniel, his girlfriend, who was with Finder at Albany Medical Center Hospital when he passed.
One thing I didn’t know — he was a spectator at Wrigley Field the last time the Chicago Cubs baseball team played in the World Series, in 1945. He was 6 years old at the time.
UPDATE 2/28/2013: Lin Daniel sent along this photo of Finder in a Corvette:
Daniel also wrote in an email:
He didn’t require you like Route 66, only that you listened to his enthusiasm. Thing is, if you listened for longer than 15 minutes, you’d end up being another “Roadie”. His enthusiasm and joy were infectious.