Rena Vicini, an author and retired University of Kentucky assistant athletics director, died this week at her home in Lake Havasu City in western Arizona. She was 61.
James Vicini of Cumberland in Harlan County said his sister had diabetes, but that her death was a shock. He said Rena Vicini had moved to Arizona last fall.
"I talked to her a week and a half ago," James Vicini said Friday. "She was really pleased where she was."
Friends and former colleagues described Vicini as a good writer, and as gregarious and fun-loving.
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"Really hate to hear about the passing of Rena Vicini," tweeted Michael Eaves, a UK alum and an Emmy-winning news and sports anchor now at Al Jazeera America. "She was always willing to help me learn when I was starting down this career path. I will never forget that."
In a tribute to Vicini posted on Facebook, Chris Cameron, an Ashland native and associate athletics director for media relations at Boston College, wrote: "You were the uniquest person I knew, and the world just became a little more dull."
Cameron wrote that he met Vicini when she was a sportswriter for the Lexington Herald-Leader, and he was a student working in UK's sports information office.
Later, after a six-year stint in Florida, Cameron returned to UK in 1988 to become Vicini's supervisor. By that time, she was an assistant sports information director.
"She never made it awkward for either of us," Cameron said in an interview. "She was always very respectful and supportive. There was a lot of laughter in that office.
"She was a great facilitator of fun and happy times," Cameron said. "She lived in a little white frame house out on Clays Mill Road near Southland Drive, and there were so many times that people would just drop by. People knew Rena's door was always open, and it was almost like it was Ground Zero for Rena's group of family and friends."
A native of Lynch in Harlan County, Vicini studied journalism at UK, where she graduated in 1977. She worked as a reporter for The Harlan Daily Enterprise, then was a sportswriter/columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader and a sportswriter for The Courier-Journal.
Vicini joined UK's staff in 1981 as an assistant sports information director. She was named associate director of communications in 1991. In 1993, after Cameron left Lexington, UK promoted her to be head of media for the athletics department.
She was still at UK in 1994 when Fatal Seduction, her book about an infamous murder case in Lexington, was published. It took five years, three rejections and dozens of rewrites to see the book get into print.
The book told the story of Karen Brown and Elizabeth Turpin, who were found guilty of murder in the 1986 stabbing death of Turpin's husband, Michael.
Prosecutors contended that the two women, who were identified by some witnesses as lovers, had Michael Turpin killed so Elizabeth Turpin could collect thousands of dollars from two insurance policies. The Turpins had been married for 5½ months when Michael Turpin was stabbed 19 times by Keith Bouchard, a friend of the two women.
Vicini made numerous trips to the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in Pewee Valley, where Elizabeth Turpin and Karen Brown were incarcerated at the time. (Turpin is still there; Brown was moved to another prison, according to the Kentucky Department of Corrections.)
The book sold well locally and received good reviews.
"I'm really enjoying this," Vicini told The Harlan Daily Enterprise in a 1994 interview. "I'm being acknowledged for something other than being an assistant athletics director at UK."
Vicini was assistant athletics director for publications from 2001 to 2004, when she retired from UK.
She later worked for Digome LLC, a company that develops websites for high-profile clients, including former UK basketball star and Dallas Mavericks point guard Rajon Rondo.
Survivors include her mother, three sisters and eight brothers.
Milward Funeral Directors in Lexington is in charge of arrangements.