At the beginning of September, Æthelmearc and the Society lost one of its legends. Countess Aidan ni Leir, Mistress of the Laurel, Mistress of the Pelican, Lady of the Rose, passed away suddenly in her home in the Canton of Steltonwald.
Countess Aidan had been active in the SCA since the mid-1970s, originally in the Crown Province of Østgardr (NYC). The Order of Precedence records her earliest award as a Silver Crescent (the East Kingdom’s AoA-level service order) in 1976 (A.S. XI). She served as Queen of the East through the summer of A.S. XIV, reigning with King Setanta (later Shannon) an Chasur at Pennsic 8. During her reign, she created many of the award scrolls that she and Setanta bestowed on worthy gentles, including the one shown below.
After stepping down as Queen, she went on to serve the East as Tyger Clerk of the Signet, helping to build the scribes of the East into a mighty army of artists.
Aidan also served as Seneschale of the East Kingdom in the late 1980s, during the period when the Western Region of the East was working on becoming the Principality of Æthelmearc. Her assistance was vital to the success of the Principality effort. She once claimed that she could have bought a house for the money she spent being Kingdom Seneschale, much of it used to pay for telephone bills and travel. In gratitude, after Æthelmearc was established as a Principality, Prince Haakon Oaktall and Princess Eleanor of Waldren bestowed on Countess Aidan the Principality service award, the Keystone. So many people asked her when she was moving to Æthelmearc that the question was depicted on her Keystone scroll across a small banner, in Latin, because of course Aidan knew Latin.
Sir Andreas Hak, who was seneschal of the Western Region and led the effort to create the Principality, recalls her attitude this way: “Aidan told me she had no particular feelings about whether such a principality was a good thing or not; but as seneschale, she was determined to make sure that the process was well executed. Aidan gave me a roadmap, and also offered up a lot of her time and resources in the principality movement. When I was traveling to events almost every weekend to hold listening sessions, Aidan managed to travel to a good minority of those events so she could hear the voices of the populace first hand.” Sir Hak notes that the job of Kingdom Seneschal was one he thought daunting. “Aidan took a job I was unwilling to consider. She did a great job, and she was very helpful in the principality movement when she could have simply stayed out of the way. She was a pleasure to work with, and I think fondly on our relationship for those years, and afterward.”
Aidan was well-known for her love of the arts, and for teaching all she knew with both creativity and humor. Mistress Briony of Chatham, who started her SCA career in the Debatable Lands but now lives in the East, says “She was an excellent artisan, with skills in many crafts. Her sense of humor encompassed the absurd, cynical, and snarky, but she was also a compassionate and good person.”
Aidan was plain-spoken and honest, some might say to a fault, but her influence on the Society is undeniable. Master Geoffrey d’Ayr of Montalban, originally of the Barony of Bhakail (Philadelphia), now living in Atlantia, says “Countess Aidan ni Leir was in many ways my SCA sister; supportive when necessary, corrective frequently (read: giving a kick in pants) when enthusiasm overtook sense. She is one of the many people to whom I owe a great debt for mentoring and molding and making me into something remotely peer-like.”
Mistress Elizabeth nic Ian, formerly of Østgardr, now also in Atlantia, grew up with Countess Aidan as a family friend. She recalls that Aidan’s breadth and depth of knowledge on a wide array of topics was intimidating when she was a child, but also spurred her to learn more. “We didn’t always get along, especially when I was a kid. She even admitted she wasn’t much of a kid person. It was the very rare child that she admitted to liking all the time, and I was not that child. It wasn’t until later that I learned to appreciate the prickly-but-warm brilliance that was Aidan. I wish I’d had easier recording technology to record some of the amazing tangents she’d fly off on during our too-infrequent conversations. They were all learning experiences, and made me want to know more about this crazy world. In fact, the desire to not look stupid to Aidan spurred many a research binge, so I could speak with more than the seat of my pants with her.”
In the early 2000s, Aidan gave in to the lure of friends and our low cost of living, and moved to the Canton of Steltonwald in Æthelmearc, where she lived until her passing. During her time here, she taught classes on topics ranging from scribal arts to sewing, knitting, needlework, and beadwork. She cooked many a fine feast, created leather-bound books, crafted beautiful award scrolls too numerous to count, checked gentles in at Æthelmearc War Practices, and always dispensed her unique blend of wisdom and sass that endeared her to many.
THLady Muirgheal Inghean Dubhghaill notes that Countess Aidan was “a woman unafraid to speak her mind or to be a voice against many; the true craftsman with fine calligraphy or the teacher of those that could hardly hold the pen; a Peer that valued honesty over popularity but with enough sense to never take herself too seriously; the crafter of as many tales as bead necklaces; someone ahead of her time and willing to break with the norm but who also respected traditions.”
THLady Teresa Luis Alvarez first met Aidan when Teresa was a teenager. For a decade, they shared a camp at Pennsic, and Teresa felt that Aidan never quite got past thinking of her as a teenager. When Aidan moved to Steltonwald, Teresa interacted with her more on a mundane basis than through the SCA. She says, “Aidan knew everything about everything. She read everything, followed the news and loved discussing things. She would come over for dinner and get into far-ranging discussions with my husband about theology, politics, and world events. He’ll miss that.” Aidan also loved big dogs, having grown up with a doberman and later a “wretched” standard schnauzer. “Her dog stories were hilarious, and would make you laugh until you couldn’t breathe and tears were running down your cheeks,” Teresa remembered. Aidan would come to Teresa’s for dinner so she could get a “dog fix” with Teresa’s English Setter, Nigel. She was always there for Teresa, and served as a surrogate mother after Teresa’s mom passed away 8 years ago. “My boys called her Aunt Helen. She was an actual part of our family. She had pride of place at our wedding, she went to both of my sons’ high school graduations. It was expected that she’d be included and there for all my little family’s major events. She was special, and very much loved by my family, even though most of them aren’t active in the SCA.”
Mistress Gianna di Aurelio, who was Countess Aidan’s apprentice until her own elevation to the Laurel six year ago, said “I loved Aidan very much. She was strong and wonderful mentor whose sage advice helped me along my path in the SCA. When she asked me to be her apprentice, Aidan told me that she never really wanted an apprentice because she felt that she was not a good enough artist. I think that anyone who was ever received any of her art would disagree. I learned many skills from her and I will miss our long talks about obscure little details of our shared enthusiasm for art. She was one of the most knowledgeable people that I have ever known. She was willful, stubborn, and honest and I will miss her.” Gianna also notes that Aidan would drive hours to teach at a schola or Æcademy. “She was prolific. I would challenge people to either paint a scroll or teach a class in Aidan’s honor.”
Lady Marian of Blackwood, one of Countess Aidan’s closest friends in Steltonwald along with Mistress Cassadoria Finialla, said “She was many things to many people. Countess, teacher, Laurel, Pelican. All of those things are wonderful, but to me – she was most of all – my friend. That is who I grieve the most.”
Her Excellency, Constance Glyn Dŵr, Baroness of the Debatable Lands, wishes all to know that “At Agincourt we will be having a small memorial table for Helen Pinto (Countess, Comrade Saint Aidan ni Leir). We encourage one and all to bring and display their favorite scroll done by her hand, pictures, mementos or anything that pleases you for her memory. We will have candles, and pen and paper for good gentles to pen their favorite memories of the Countess.”
At Summer’s End in the Barony of the Rhydderich Hael on September 12, King Timothy and Queen Gabrielle held a moment of silence during court to honor Countess Aidan, and His Majesty further enjoined everyone to seek out their friends and spend time with those they care about, for one never knows when they will be gone from our lives.
THL Teresa Luisa Alvarez reports that a funeral Mass will be held for Helen Pinto (Countess Aidan ni Leir) on Saturday, September 26, 2015 at 12:00 PM, St James Church , 200 Walnut Street, Sewickley, PA 15143.
All friends, allies, and associates of the late Helen Pinto, aka the Good Countess, Comrade Saint Aidan ni Leir, Patron Saint of Unpopular Causes and Answer Countess, are encouraged to hold such celebrations of her life as they deem appropriate.
Helen was born in October, 1951 to Leonard and Irene Pinto. A mild mannered computer programmer by day, in the evenings and on weekends she was transformed into Aidan ~ musician, maker, teacher of all things, and mentor. She was a raconteur of the highest order. She shared, gave, noodged, prodded, encouraged, and sometimes shouted in an attempt to bring people to their better selves.
According to her wishes, her ashes will soon reside as part of a reef ball. These are designed artificial reefs that are used to restore coral reefs around the world. She is survived by her cousins: Renee Pinto, Mickey Pinto, Gerrit Murphy, and Elizabeth Murphy.
So, get together, tell stories, and enjoy each other’s company. And, if you think to raise a glass, she was partial to Bailey’s Irish Crème or Jameson’s – good “daughter of the old sod” that she was.
– Mistress Cassadoria Finialla