Viscount Bear the Wallsbane, mundanely known as Paul Acks, passed away on Saturday, January 21st. He was 70 years old. At Syr Bear’s funeral on Friday, January 27th, people spent over an hour telling stories, many of which are incorporated in this article with the permission of the participants.
Viscount Bear was twice Prince of Æthelmearc, a Knight, a Pelican, a member of the Millrind and of the East Kingdom’s Tyger’s Combatant (fighting) and Silver Crescent (service). He was also a recipient of the Keystone and Golden Alce, a Grant of Arms, an Augmentation of Arms, numerous Sigils, and other awards. As Prince, he created the Jewel of Æthelmearc in 1993 (A.S. XVIII), and 17 years later became its 29th recipient.
Syr Bear was long a fixture in the SCA, having joined the Society in the fall of 1978. In 1981 he founded the first shire in Erie, PA, which was called Crimson Shore. While it only lasted a few years, he eventually resurrected it as the Shire of Stormsport in 1986 with the help of Baron Illiam Uaine (aka Frog), THLord Gareth the Eccentric, Viscount Alexander Caithnes of Wyk and Viscountess Rannveigr Haakonardottir, along with a few others. Viscount Alexander recalls, “My wife and I moved to Erie for her to start her medical practice, and we were thinking of starting a family, so we thought we’d take 6 months or so off from SCA activity to get our bearings. Little did we know, Bear knew we were in Erie. Three days later, Bear showed up on our doorstep and said ‘I want to start a new shire here in Erie, and you are exactly the people I want to start it up with.’ Well, how do you say no to that? You can’t. Bear’s whole focus was on the SCA; he knew how to get what he wanted, and he got it that day. That was also the day we became very close friends.”
Bear has been deeply involved in the Society and the Kingdom, serving on the Principality Committee that determined the structure and Laws of what became the Principality of Æthelmearc, working at the local level as Seneschal and Knight Marshal, and running tournaments and inspecting fighters. Duke Timothy of Arindale noted that Bear served long hours at the Pennsic inspection point and it will take many people to fill that time at future Wars.
Syr Bear may have been best known for the “Betting Man’s Guide to Crown Tourney.” It was originally created by his friend, Syr Andreas Hak, but Bear took over the Guide in the mid-1990s and produced an edition for every AEthelmearc Crown Tourney thereafter. It listed the fighters competing in Crown in order based on their odds of winning the tournament, with a brief, often witty or snarky paragraph about their strengths and weaknesses. These pamphlets were sold for $1 each, with the proceeds going to the Royal Travel fund.
Photo of a Betting Man’s Guide by Mistress Rowena ni Dhonnchaidh
Syr Bear’s sister, Susie, recalled how he taught her to play chess and was an avid reader, especially of science fiction. She also noted that he did everything he could to support her, especially when their father was incapacitated by illness late in his life. Her kids all knew him as “Uncle Bear” even though his real name was Paul. Though he was a bachelor (with cats) his whole life, he helped her children frequently, especially his niece, April. Reading some comments from a mundane friend of Bear’s, she said “Paul was a man better suited to swinging a great axe than using AutoCAD,” which drew smiles from the attendees. She also said that Bear had more than just his biological family – he thought of the SCA as “his big family.”
Sir Vladisla Nikulich said, “Paul was just Syr Bear’s mundane persona – who Bear was 8-5, Monday through Friday, to make a living. His real life was in the SCA.” Bear once told Vlad that he went to SCA events 45-48 weekends a year. In later years when he became semi-retired he “only” went to 20 events a year.
Sir Vlad told a story of how Bear and Sir Alexander fought a bout in the semi-finals of the Principality’s third Coronet Tourney. Bear and Alexander were regular sparring partners who knew each other well. It being late in the tourney, Bear thought Alexander was bored and figured he would easily win. What he didn’t know was that right before the fight, Alexander’s 3-year-old daughter Dee Dee went up to him and said “Daddy, am I a princess?” Alexander’s response was “I’ll be with you directly.” Sir Alexander picked up the story, saying “Halfway through that fight he tagged me across my grill. It was a light blow and I looked at him and said ‘Hold a minute. You just got me across the face. Are we fighting open face rules, ‘cause if we are, I’m dead.’ Bear thought for a second and said ‘Nah, let’s keep going. I want to kill you the real way.’ If he hadn’t passed on that [opportunity], Bear would have been in the finals and most likely would have been the third Prince of Æthelmearc” instead of Alexander.
Photo courtesy of Duchess Liadain ní Dheirdre Chaomhánaigh
Sir Vlad and Syr Bear were frequent travel companions. Sir Vlad recalled, “Frequently, Bear would go up to monarchs to invite them to events, give Them opinions about something that happened in Curia (because Bear had a LOT of Opinions), but most often to tell Them about people he felt had been overlooked for awards and recognition. His service to Æthelmearc off the list was so much more important than in the list. He gave people swords, armor, garb, and so much more. A lot of people have something that was Bear’s.”
Lady Lyssa of Stahlgeist recalls that when she was about 2, she saw her “Big Bear” walking down the road at Pennsic and started running to meet him. She said, “I ran so fast my legs couldn’t keep up with my upper body. I went splat, face first into the road and started to cry. Bear, who had often said he didn’t like children, picked me up and carried me into camp.” Lyssa’s mother, Mistress Anna Eisenkopf, said “It was the start of a wonderful relationship. As a teen, when she as a nonfighter wanted to be a heavy marshal, Bear supported her. The gruff guy had a soft spot in his heart for this particular child.”
Master Creador Twinedragon recounted the story of the “Brothers of the Fuchsia.” Initially, Syr Bear had three squires. He bought some leather to make them belts and dyed them red, but they came out bright pink. He bought more of the same red dye and tried again, but they just became a bolder shade of fuchsia. The first squire, Kadan Chákhilgan Ger on Echen, said “I’m a Mongol, it’s pink, it fits, I’ll wear it.” Creador got a call warning him “The belt’s a little loud.” He received the belt, and thought “Is this a challenge, like a ‘Boy Named Sue’ sort of situation?” But he decided “We’ll go with it.” The third squire took one look, said “I’m not man enough” and got himself some more red dye. Over the years the belts deepened into an actual red, and Creador’s was passed on to his son Gunther when he became Bear’s squire.
Duke Timothy said “At the last Crown Bear fought in, he was fighting for a young lady who had never been fought for before. Bear made it special for her, and made her day wonderful. Bear did what it took to touch other people’s lives.”
Photo courtesy of Baroness Ellesbeth Donofrey.
Viscountess Judith of Kirtland, Bear’s second Princess and longtime companion, said “I met Bear in 1992, when I first came to Æthelmearc. I showed up at a Stormsport fight practice with some cobbled together armor. Shortly after I walked into the gym, a giant person in a red and black lumberjack coat showed up. I was scared to death, but he said ‘Hi, I’m Syr Bear, where are you from?’ He looked at me for a moment, then said ‘We’re going to have to do something about your armor, but let’s do some drills.’” She was terrible at fighting, and was certain Bear was trying not to laugh at her, but she fought so hard that she puked. She still had her head in the wastebasket when she heard a growly voice say “Um, you wanna go out for dinner?”
Viscountess Judith said that Bear taught her that honor is everything and keeping your word is important (along with conveying to her a fairly extensive set of colorful profanity). She was always late, but when they were on the thrones of the Principality, he told her “Judith, that’s f-ing disrespectful” and she made sure to be on time from then on. Most important, he taught her to be brave. “He fought with numerous injuries,” she said, and “Only Bear would think of fighting 60 Knights for his 60th birthday.”
During the last years of his life, Bear could no longer fight and could barely walk, but carried on going to work and doing the things he felt he should do. The last thing he did was take one of his cats to the vet; Judith asked if he wanted some help and he said “Judith, you worry too f-ing much.” That night he died at his computer table. “I don’t know how I’m going to do without him,” Judith said.
Master Llewelyn ap Tiernon, who started his SCA career in WV but for the past several decades has been living in the Midrealm, said Bear stood up for him when he became a housemate of Judith, to whom he was apprenticed. Master Llew only found out a decade later that someone had gone to Bear to “warn” him that Llewelyn was gay (which was no surprise to Bear since Llew had been “out” from the time he joined the SCA). Bear told the other person to “Mind his own damned business.” Master Llewelyn loved camping at Pennsic with Bear, who “had a smile as big as Godzilla.” They would sit around the campfire where everyone was welcome, and sometimes they would sing. Master Llewelyn then sang “The Parting Glass” along with many of the attendees. You can watch it in the video below.
– Video by Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope
King Arnthor recalled that when he started fighting in the SCA, Bear was the person who intimidated him. He avoided Bear at events because he hit so hard. But over time, Arnthor got a little better, and finally one day at a tourney in the Debatable Lands he made it to the finals against Bear. It was a best of five bouts, and Arnthor won, 3 to 1. He was so excited, he went up to Bear, saying “That’s the first time I’ve ever beaten you in a tournament!” Bear looked down at him and said “Well, I am 60, after all,” which deflated a bit of Arnthor’s excitement. But that day Bear took Arnthor under his wing, offering him training and tips and helping him gain confidence. On the day Arnthor won Crown, Bear was one of the first people to congratulate him, saying how proud he was of Arnthor. The last time Arnthor saw Bear was at His Crown Tourney. Bear was selling his Betting Man’s Guide as usual, and would go to the Queen to hand her and her ladies the money periodically over the day. This happened so many times that the Queen joked that he was treating them like strippers. His Majesty said “Bear was someone I couldn’t wait to talk to and be around, and I will miss him.”
Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope recalls how Bear got the nickname “Wallsbane.” It was at an event in Thescorre in the early 1980s called “Akiley’s Tendin’ Tourney,” autocratted by Akiley du Remier, who later became Syr Bear’s first Princess. It was held at a beautiful Girl Scout camp on one the of Finger Lakes. During the day, the heavy fighters had a “storm the castle” scenario using a wooden stockade fence provided by Sir Ogami Akira to serve as the castle gate. Ogami didn’t want it back, so he suggested that some of the fighters armor back up and run through it to break it up so they could burn it for the bardic circle. Recounting from a story told by Ogami, “I got up in court to announce that we needed someone to run through the wall, and before I could draw in another breath, a huge black mass streaked from the back of the room. Bear, traveling at a speed I had not seen before (or since) ran down the aisle, dropped to his knees, and slid twenty feet in the humble position of a supplicant…. Thirty minutes later he was in his armor standing in a torchlit semi-circle of people chanting ‘Bear Bear! Bear!’ He let out a roar and blasted through, and that poor fence exploded out like a set of saloon doors hit by a freight train.” And thus he became Bear the Wallsbane.
Photo courtesy of Duke Maynard von dem Steine.
Syr Andreas Hak and Bear were best friends for 43 years. Hak notes “There was a side of Bear few saw; the literary side that included his extensive library and occasional attendance at literary conventions. He was not big on flowery poetry, but loved the kind of poetry that was the crystallization of memorable speech. Bear also provided advice and feedback on my writing, and was the first reader for many of my works.
Syr Hak wrote this ballad, which was published in August of 2000 as part of his first Master’s Thesis, called Lines of Separation.
Letter to Bear
(for Bear Acks)
by Herb Kauderer
You lived your life without regard
for what the long run brings
because you never once considered
you might survive each spring.
You lived extremes despite your wisdom,
took joy that you were tough,
said, “What do I know, anyway?”
Enough, old friend. Enough.
Now age has left you sick and pained.
You did not plan to live,
but still you find what’s left outweighs
the cold alternative.
Besides, you can’t give up without
at least a chance to see
the end results and satisfy
Our friendship, built of honesty
and tolerance, soon grew
to be more open than the sky
and wider than the view.
You often said, “I wish that we
were gay.” Instead we turned
to women. We were pulled apart,
and I was scarred and burned.
If I were not a woman’s man
we’d still have Camelot.
I wish I’d been a stronger man.
Lord knows that I was not.
But when I climbed up from the ash
I found you waiting there
in hopes the good remained. What’s left
survives in disrepair.
Let’s hope our memories are strong.
is hard. But is it worth it now?
What’s left, old friend? A lot.
Bear also wrote poetry, and Hak provided a couple of examples:
by Bear Acks
Love is only emotional insulin
transmuting life’s crap
But the older you get
the more you need
to overcome your tolerance.
by Bear Acks
Understanding is nice
but highly overrated
when it’s usually acceptance
Finally, upon Bear’s elevation to the Order of the Pelican in 2005, Syr Hak spoke as one of his Worthies. This is what he said:
I am Andreas Hak, Knight of the Society, and Master of the Pelican. I believe it is a thankless task to speak of Bear’s chivalry.
The main components of chivalry are prowess and courtesy. Bear’s prowess at arms is unquestioned. He is a knight and twice a Viscount. His courtesy has often been decorated, and needs no words of validation from me.
Instead I would take this opportunity to speak to a different element of Bear’s chivalry. I would speak of his thoughtlessness. At least 100 times through the years, I have seen or heard of some courteous deed or gesture made by Bear, some of startling magnitude. On almost all of these occasions I have asked Bear, Why did you do that?”
Every time the answer has been the same. “I don’t know. I didn’t think about it. I just did it.”
While others contemplate and debate what is chivalrous, Bear simply IS chivalrous. Thoughtlessly so. I met Bear for the first time at Pennsic Nine. We were… younger. And less refined.
The head of my household called me aside and spoke to me as she was concerned that I had chosen not to bring to Pennsic a tent. Or food. A few minutes later Bear rumbled up to me and said, “Are you that guy who doesn’t have a tent? Listen I got a big tent to myself, and there’s almost nothing in it. If the weather gets bad, or you change your mind about sleeping outside, you’re welcome to half my tent. It’s the big orange one over there. But I got to warn you: I snore really loud.” Thoughtlessly, and without knowing me, he offered me his home and hospitality, and for 25 years he has never taken that offer back.
I believe this anecdote sums up Bear’s chivalry perfectly. He is thoughtless, genuine, and generous. He is among the brightest gems in all of Æthelmearc. And to receive his radiance all you have to do is put up some occasional loud noise.
Photo courtesy of Duke Inman MacMoore.
In his will, Bear set aside money to throw a party in his honor at Pennsic, but he had four requirements: 1. There should be a bonfire. 2. There should be drinking, 3. There should be music, and 4. If at all possible and people are willing, somebody should be getting naked. Syr Hak will be organizing the party with Viscountess Judith.
Sir Vlad said, “Bear was my teacher, mentor, friend; he is eternal. Æthelmearc will never replace him, we can only try to move on with the spirit he brought to the Kingdom and continue his mission. He does not want anybody to be sad or bereaved. Laugh out loud to honor him.”
You can read Syr Bear’s obituary here.
If you are so inclined, Syr Bear requested that any donations in his memory go to your local cat shelter.