Dan Biggers, an educator, patron of the arts, and actor (who, among many other roles, played Dr. Frank Robb in the TV version of In the Heat of the Night), passed away on Monday. As the news has gotten out, I've heard from several people who thought that he might have been my dad. He wasn't; my father was Don Biggers (full name was Donald Clifford Biggers--and yes, I'm Donald Clifford Biggers, Jr., I'm very proud to say), formerly writer, sports editor, city editor, and managing editor of the Rome News-Tribune and a man who served as a county commissioner and who was active in supporting and promoting high school sports. (Dad passed away in 2007.)
But the confusion is understandable; in fact, Dan Biggers and I often joked about the fact that his move to Rome in the 1960s led to decades of mix-ups. Obviously, the similarities in names--Don Biggers and Dan Biggers--led to many mixups. For years, we got one another's phone calls--and even occasionally received one another's mail!
Then Dan Biggers became dean at Berry College, where he was frequently referred to as Dean Biggers. My mother's name was Dean, so she too was Dean Biggers. You can see the many mixups that might have come from that. I remember when they were introduced at one point--"Dean Biggers, I'd like to introduce Dean Biggers. And Dean Biggers, this is Dean Biggers."
I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to Berry College, which I attended from 1971 to 1975; ironically, Dan Biggers became Dean of Students in 1971--the exact same time that I joined Berry as a freshman. I sometimes wondered if the fact that my last name was Biggers might have worked in my favor from time to time when it came time to get a schedule changed or to get in an otherwise full class, even though I never attempted to use the surname to my advantage (although many friends said I should have!).
Our paths crossed many times over the years. At one point, Dan Biggers was hosting a cable-channel local news-and-interview program in Rome, and he asked me to make an appearance on the show to talk about science fiction, comics, fandom, and to plug a local SF convention that Gary Steele, Larry Mason, Susan, and I were hosting in Rome. As always, Dan was personable and very amiable prior to the broadcast, spending about twenty minutes just catching up. When the show began, though, I witnessed Dan's screen personality come out; it wasn't different than his normal personality so much as it was an intensification of the Dan Biggers I knew, as if he has distilled everything that typified him and made it stronger, more concentrated. At that point, I realized that this was a man who knew how to project for the cameras, so it was no surprise that he found a career in acting as well. I was always proud to see him in a television or film role, and happy that he had found such success in something he loved to do.
I lament his passing; he was a good man who did many beneficial things for the Rome community, and I was glad I had the chance to know him.