Steven Albert Pope, 60, veteran, computer engineer, Buddhist monk

August 13, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Steven Albert Pope, a former Buddhist monk who planned to take up acupuncture when he retired as a computer engineer, died Aug. 6 of melanoma at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 60.

Mr. Pope last worked as a network engineer at Zurich U.S., a national insurance company with an office in Baltimore. He left the company in March to spend time with his family and friends after learning his cancer, which he thought was under control, had spread.

Before that, he worked with computers in several area organizations and as a pipe fitter in a Wisconsin shipyard.

In the 1960s, Mr. Pope served as an officer in the Coast Guard stationed on Governor's Island, N.Y., and earned a spot as an honor guard during President John F. Kennedy's funeral.

"At one point during the funeral, he had to draw his sword and put it down on the ground, and it got stuck in the pavement," remembered college friend Tom Miller, who lives in Teaneck, N.J. "He said he was so embarrassed."

Mr. Pope was born in New York City, but moved to Lionville, Pa., before his 8th birthday. There he attended elementary classes in a one-room schoolhouse and graduated from the nearby joint junior and senior high school, Downingtown, in 1959. In 1963, he earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

After graduating, he joined the Coast Guard and eventually volunteered to serve in Vietnam, a move that surprised some because Mr. Pope had always been anti-war.

"I think he felt a strong sense of duty to serve his country in that way even though philosophically he wasn't really supportive," said his wife of nine years, the former Diana Spies.

He returned from the war with unchanged opinions about its worth but with new thoughts about life and religion. Raised a Lutheran, Mr. Pope found Buddhism in Vietnam.

"It complemented his own contemplative nature," Mrs. Pope said. "He was never much of a talker; he was more of a thinker. ... Something about Buddhism resonated with him, its lack of the glitz and drama that surrounds Christianity. He liked its simple, solitary nature."

Mrs. Pope grew up with Mr. Pope in Lionville. She remembers him as a constant fixture at her house - he was friends with her older brother - but she doesn't remember taking notice of him until she was 17 and he was nearly a decade older.

"He drove this red Porsche, and I was completely smitten," she said. "But he didn't get it."

Though they kept in touch over the years, nearly a quarter-century would pass before they got together. During that time, Mr. Pope studied at the Zen Center in Easton, Pa., and became a Buddhist monk in 1970. He met Judith Wenner there and married her in 1971. The couple had two children and divorced in 1991.

Mr. Pope became reacquainted with Diana Spies and moved to Baltimore, where she was living. They wed in 1993.

Together they played in a local gamelan, a Balinese-style orchestra, performing at Artscape 1997 and local clubs, including 14-Karat Cabaret in Baltimore.

"He was a really rare, magnificent human being," said Andriana Pateris, who played with the Popes in the gamelan. "He just had this really funny, calm, weird energy even through the frustrating moments of trying to learn this incredibly complicated music. He and Diana were really the glue of the group."

The Popes traveled when they could, making several trips to Indonesia and Malaysia, and staying with friends in Bali.

"His mom's family is Finnish, and they have a word, sisu, that means the quality of being nonjudgmental and accepting people for who they are," his wife said. "And he really had that, all the time and everywhere."

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday at Downingtown Friends Meeting House, 900 E. Lancaster Ave., Downingtown, Pa.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Pope is survived by his mother, Vienno Pope of Tampa, Fla.; a son, Thomas Pope of Pittsburgh; a daughter, Annee Pope Ingala of Portland, Ore; two stepchildren, Peter Inslee and Anne Green, both of Portland; two sisters, Joanna Gear of Portland and Janet Sullivan of St. Petersburg, Fla.; and one granddaughter.

Donations may be made in Mr. Pope's name to Baltimore City Community College, where he was taking science classes to prepare for acupuncture study. Contributions should be sent to Frances Gunshol, 600 E. Lombard St., Baltimore 21202.

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