Richard Charles Vari died at his home in Botetourt County on June 12, 2022, after being diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) one year before.
Rick lived a large life and was generous with his love and talent. He was born in Lynch, Harlan County, Ky., on April 9, 1954, and then moved to Cumberland, Ky., a few years later. Born to Elizabeth “Lib” Vari Ball, he was then adopted and raised by his grandmother, Elizabeth Orres Vari. Mama Vari provided a home that fostered a love of learning, storytelling, gardening, canning, and cooking all things Hungarian. They lived among a close-knit community of coal mining families. He attended St. Stephen Catholic Church and school before graduating from Cumberland High School in 1972. His religious upbringing helped create a foundation of faith that aided him in his intense year-long struggle with ALS. Rick first finished one year at Southeast Kentucky Community College, then attended the University of Kentucky in Lexington where he obtained a biology bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s and Ph.D. in Physiology. He later came back to Southeast CC to give the commencement address in 1995. He stuck to his Kentucky Appalachian roots, whether it be bourbon, bluegrass music, horse racing, or his beloved Wildcats. He embraced and was proud of his Hungarian coal mining heritage.
Rick was an example of a full life in all aspects. His family was his rock; his wife of 43 years, Patty Ryan Maloney Vari; daughter, Elizabeth Ryan (Liz) Vari Mutcheson and son-in-law, Brock Mutcheson; son, Richard Alexander (Alex) Vari and daughter-in-law, Jill Robideaux Vari; grandchildren, Sylvia Elizabeth Mutcheson, Ryan Irene Mutcheson, Gibson Charles Vari, and Eloise Victoria Vari. The grandchildren were at the center of his big heart and he, as their Pupo, loved sharing with them all the tricks of fishing and crabbing at the beach. He loved them immensely and was most sad to think he wouldn’t be physically present in their lives as they grew up. His wife, daughter, and son were everything to him as he was to them.
Rick was passionate about living, which manifested itself in the many ways he succeeded in life. He had successes on the football field, on the debate team, and on the theatrical stage in his young adult years. He went on to train in kidney research at the University of Missouri Columbia, conduct cardio-renal research at Tulane University in New Orleans, and then found himself immersed in medical school curriculum development first at the University of North Dakota, followed by his recruitment to Roanoke to help start the (VTCSOM) Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine problem-based learning and inter-professional education curriculum, which were his hallmarks. As Senior Dean for Academic Affairs at VTCSOM he was responsible for the four-year curriculum. Of all his many publications in research and educational journals, he was most proud of authoring articles with his wife, Patty, and his son-in-law, Brock. His passion for medical education spurred his success. He was the recipient of many national awards, including the Alpha Omega Alpha Paul Glazer Distinguished Teacher Award from the American Association of Medical Colleges and the International Association of Medical Science Educators (IAMSE), Finnerty Lifetime Achievement Award. He was on the board of IAMSE before serving as president. He credits IAMSE for his development as a medical educator. Conferences around the globe afforded he and Patty world travel, which they so loved.
He was beloved by students, faculty, staff, family, friends, and anyone who was within his sphere, because he had the unique ability to make everyone around him feel seen. He was generous with his time, money, and talent, and always brought out the best in others. He was a coach and mentor to many, from the young soccer players he coached in Grand Forks, N.D., to the many graduate students, medical students, young faculty, and staff he nurtured. His extended family of mother-in-law, aunts-in-law, brothers and sisters-in-law, nephews and niece, first cousins, and a couple of “brothers from another mother” were in the circle of mutual love and admiration. Gatherings of one or more were always memorable.
When he was around, life was just a little bit brighter and more fun. The food tasted better, the music was livelier, and the laughter was heartier. His cooking and hospitality were renowned among family and friends. Coming into their welcoming home, you knew the good smells from Rick’s cooking were a precursor to something special to eat. Anything could bring a tear to his eye, as he loved deeply, whether it be his family, friends, a nice meal, or a glass of fine wine. His sense of humor was ever present and Patty knew early on that this man who made her laugh was who she wanted to spend her life with.
He was self-taught, playing the guitar, growing mushrooms, and making his own sausage and jerky. He loved his dog, being in the garden and sharing the fruits of that labor, whether it was fresh, something canned, or even his popular fermented hot sauce. His home in Botetourt County was his refuge, whether gardening, mowing, or cutting wood for the fire burning brightly every winter night.
He was valiant and dignified in the face of such a cruel disease that tried to take it all away. But, even at the very end, it could not take away his essence; his character, his integrity, and his passion.
The care, compassion, and support shown by his Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine family helped sustain him through this intense year of illness. The love extended to him and his family by those who provided medical and nursing care, therapies, pastoral visits, food, companionship, correspondences, and especially daily caregiving will be forever appreciated and are a testament to the presence of human kindness. There are no adequate words to thank the family and friends who rotated every month for a week at a time to provide the help needed to meet Rick’s increasing care needs.
A memorial service will be held on Thursday, July 14, at 10 a.m. in Fincastle Presbyterian Church, Fincastle.
Rick was a man of faith, so to him we say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
The family acknowledges and supports the Richard Vari, Ph.D., Endowed Lectureship fund at VTCSOM (https://medicine.vtc.vt.edu/giving/vari) and the ALS Association, DC/MD/VA Chapter (https://www.als.org).
Online condolences may be made to Rick’s family at www.rader-funeralhome.com/tributes/Richard-Vari.
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