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Service Honors Museum Official Naomi Vine

Rite: She is remembered as a tough-minded professional who steered institutions through difficult times.

January 12, 2002|VIVIAN LETRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a traditional Catholic memorial service filled with hymns, incense and sunlight beaming through stained-glass windows, friends and relatives of Naomi Vine paid tribute Friday to the Orange County Museum of Art's founding director, who died of cancer on Christmas Eve.

A Mass led by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony at St. Barnabas Church in Long Beach celebrated the life of the 52-year-old Vine, who was remembered as a tough-minded professional who led two of Orange County's most prominent museums through troubled times. She also was a recently baptized Catholic and a devoted mother, Mahony said.

"The people who didn't know her misunderstood her," said Los Angeles artist Peter Alexander, who met Vine when he was a board member and she had started her tumultuous days as director at the Laguna Art Museum in 1995. She became founding director of the Orange County Museum of Art in 1996.

Among the 300 who attended the service were leaders of Orange County's arts community. Some were moved to tears as they listened to eulogies detailing Vine's recent conversion to Catholicism, her decision to adopt a child and her battle with cancer.

"If I'm going to die, my dying wish is: You have to love Victor as much as you love me," Vine told her husband, Albert Milano, on learning that her illness was terminal. It was Vine who persuaded her husband they should adopt Cambodian-born Victor, now 11, after she learned that she could not have a child.

"She wanted to come home at night and have someone call her 'Mom,' " said Milano, who carried Vine's ashes to the front of the church in a black urn.

Vine met Milano in 1994. He was drawn to her fabulous smile, he said. "She was my inspiration," he said. Shortly after, she fought her first bout with cancer. The illness returned in September 2001.

She and Milano moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1995 so she could realize her dream of directing a museum of art. Milano found work as a fund-raising consultant, joining Mahony's capital campaign to build the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Vine's wish is to be interred in the cathedral.

"She was on the Catholic fast-track," said Msgr. John P. Twomey in one of the ceremony's lighter moments. He said Vine became a Catholic last April and met the pope in July. Despite her busy schedule, she made time to go to weekday Mass at 8 a.m.

"She had three great loves: Love of God, love of family and love of art."

The black cube that contains her ashes is a nod to her 1989 dissertation in art history. It represents the works of abstract painter Ad Reinhardt, who was known for his muted black square canvases containing barely discernible crosses.

Mahony's insight into Vine's love of art and her spiritual journey was stated simply: "Art is a reflected part of God's creation. Now she beholds beauty like none of us can ever imagine."

Times staff writer Ann Conway contributed to this report.

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