The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Speaking freely came easily
BY KATIE THISDELL
Some of the throwaway sayings may have been politically incorrect, but Nikolic, who left Yugoslavia in 1955, was immensely proud to live in a country where he could freely speak his mind.
“I came to America to say what I can damned well say,” was what he would say in a thick Eastern European accent, said daughter Carolina Nikolic.
For years, he was a noticeable figure at local coffee shops, sharing his ideas with new and old friends.
Nikolic, who went by Nick, died Thursday, at the age of 84 after falling the day before and suffering injuries to his brain.
In the ambulance on the way to Mary Washington Hospital, he was still joking and flirting with the attendants, said longtime friend and UMW colleague Bulent Atalay.
“He was still being Nick,” said Atalay, also a retired physics professor. “When he went to the hospital, that’s how we was. He was very, very gregarious and jovial.”
A service will be held at noon Tuesday at Covenant Funeral Service.
Nikolic moved to the United States in 1955, from Belgrade, then part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
He disliked communism and never returned to his home country.
On a graduate fellowship, Nikolic came to Columbia University, where he met his wife, Jean, in an art history class.
He became a U.S. citizen in March 1964 and the couple moved to Ferry Farms in southern Stafford. He began teaching physics at UMW in 1969.
“Nick certainly was so versatile in the courses he could teach; at the drop of the hat, he’d teach different fields,” including astronomy and nuclear physics, said Atalay, who remembers helping with the hiring of Nikolic for the small department. “He could teach anything.”
He also understood and appreciated the humanities, Atalay said, and the two of them would share ideas about music and art.
Nikolic was a talented photographer and has permanent pieces at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. He specialized in macro photography, such as close-ups of butterfly wings or flowers, and was also an avid target shooter, said Carolina Nikolic, who lives in Richmond.
She said her father would carry around books of his photos with him, and show them to whoever he could.
“He made friends with people everywhere,” Carolina said.
He’d make a stop at the College Heights McDonald’s in the morning for what he called “geezer coffee,” and then spend hours at Hyperion Espresso in downtown Fredericksburg.
If you’ve ever visited Hyperion on William Street, you’ve likely seen—or heard—Nikolic.
“He really had quite a following there,” said Nikolic’s son, Nik, who now lives in Iowa.
Owner Ana Brugos says the same.
“Pretty much since we opened [in 1994], he was there in the afternoons,” Brugos said.
He and a group of friends would sit down at the biggest table and discuss all sorts of topics.
“He would start talking with whoever was around,” Brugos said. “They all seemed very interested.”
Before he left the coffee shop, he’d call out, “Ciao, y’all.”
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975