A Vanishing Breed: A.C.T. Bids Farewell to Roy Ortopan

By A.C.T. Publications Staff

Born in Kenmore, Ohio, as one of seven children, Roy Ortopan was a bookworm from the start. His Serbian-born father worked on the railroads, and his mother was a homemaker. Roy served as a radioman in the US Navy during World War II; as soon as he got out, he signed up for college, earning a BA in humanities at the University of Akron, along with an MA in English and a master’s degree in liberal arts from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Roy Ortopan at Beach Chalet in San Francisco. Photo by Stephen Arod Shirreffs.

From the day Roy graduated, he never had a single day of unemployment. Although Roy was known by generations of A.C.T. acting students seeking plays or monologues, his career spanned employment at several other high-ranking educational institutions, including Northwestern University, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and UC Berkeley, from which he retired in 1992.

His specializations include the bibliography of African Studies, and he worked in multiple languages, including French, German, Italian, Norwegian, and Russian. He also had a great love of theater, which he was able to pursue by volunteering in A.C.T.’s Allen Fletcher performing arts library, a short commute from his home in Noe Valley.

Established in 1967 when A.C.T. moved to San Francisco, the Allen Fletcher library houses more than 15,000 items in print, online, and other electronic formats, including nearly 13,000 plays. Everything in the library is ordered using the principles Roy developed during his tenure at A.C.T., where he continued to refine the library’s organization as a volunteer until the age of 90.

“Roy was a vanishing breed of librarian,” says A.C.T. Head Librarian Joe Tally. “His dedication to precision and clarity ensured every person found their book, even when they didn't know they were looking for it.”

For more information about the A.C.T. library or to make a donation, please contact Joe Tally at jtally@act-sf.org. 

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