Gerald Charles Franz, June 19, 1935 - October 23, 2014
This post has been written by John Wesley Smith, Gerald's good friend and administrator for this blog. The title above contains the last phrase in Hebrews 11:4, KJV. It is taken out of context to use as a clever title to make a very sad announcement. Gerald Franz, The Last Robin, has died. But you'll see more of his writings in months to come, so he yet speaks.
I've written much of this post ahead of time because I knew it would be dificult working through tears of grief at a time like this. Since I didn't want to create a new user account just for this occasion, the byline will still refer to The Last Robin, but only future posts will have been truly written by him.
Gerald didn't want more than a brief notice here announcing his passing. Though I mean no disrespect to him, I beg your indulgence for a few minutes because he deserves more than a scant obituary. Allow me to share thoughts about the man first, then about this blog. This won't be his biography, but I'd like to share some personal reflections.
The Man as I Knew Him
The above photo shows Gerald and his wife Janie at an unspecified date in the late 1990's, when they were dressed up to take our children to a classical music concert.
My relationship with Gerald was like that mentioned in Proverbs 27:17--Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
Gerald was like a second father to me. In fact, he was three years older than my father. I became closer to him than to my own father. He was my all time best friend and worst critic. He once asked me, somewhat in jest, who would criticize me and keep me in line after he was gone. But don't get the wrong idea. He taught me much about many things and was a positive influence.
He had a way of patiently explaining things so they made sense, and he didn't come across as belittling. He was a mentor to me, though that role diminished somewhat after his stroke.
Since I first came to know Gerald in 1987, he frequently amazed me with the depth of his intelect and variety of interests. He could quote--or on rare occasions misquote--lines from movies or things he'd read years ago as if he'd just recently heard them.
There's no doubt in my mind Gerald was gifted, perhaps even profoundly gifted. We talked about that a few times, and I'm not sure he believed it. He fit the profile exactly, based on what I've read and heard of giftedness. I'd love to know what his IQ was, but I can tell you with all confidence it was quite high. We have lost a great mind.
His sense of alienation from the rest of the world is typical of those who are gifted. As I once heard it put, a gifted person may not think he's superior, but he wonders why the rest of the world is so stupid. That was Gerald.
Let me show you what I mean. Sometimes his thoughts in conversation and writing seemed disjointed. This was more apparent after his stroke. However, when I would ask him for clarification on the topic at hand, it became evident to me that he expected others to fill in the gaps. After all, couldn't people engage in what he thought was normal conversation? Were people so dumb that they couldn't infer what was "between the lines" and draw conclusions? To him, most just didn't get it.
Something that always astonished me was how he could take things to their conclusion. For example, if I had said two plus two was four, he would have said two times two was four. That's not a very good example, but many times when I brought up an idea, he would take it two steps beyond my thought processes. I might have gotten there eventually, if I put my mind to it a while longer. I could seldom find fault with his reasoning.
He had a multifaceted sense of humor. You've been exposed to it in several of his posts. He and I often traded puns and engaged in some pretty wild thought associations. He was also a master of sarcasm.
Sometimes his humor took unexpected twists. For example, I relayed to Gerald the account of one of my son's online "conversations" with a girl he wanted to befriend. The girl said she never talked to anyone on the phone longer than three minutes. Gerald said my son should tell her he couldn't talk longer than two minutes because so many other babes wanted to talk to him. My son agreed that was funny and wished it were true.
Gerald was both persistent and insistent with his ideas and beliefs, too. He wanted to be sure he was right about something. While he denied being a perfectionist, he was definitely one when it came to studying the Bible. When he was convinced he was right, everyone else had better fall in line. As you might guess, this put off all but a few people. His friends were not--nor could have been--weaklings.
He described himself as an ideas person. He would come up with ideas and wanted other people to follow through with them. That didn't happen all that much, as you might guess. But before his stroke, he would often overwhelm me with e-mails with articles he'd found online or pages from Web sites featuring certain products.
In that same vein, over the years he and his late wife Janie provided my family with many things and experiences we wouldn't have had otherwise. For a few years we kept aquarium fish. Gerald purchased most of the equipment for that venture. Later he bought materials for six square foot gardening beds and helped me put them together. He thought I should have 50 more. But then, there's all that work...
I once told Gerald I could never pay him materially for all he'd done for me and my family over the years. He said we'd paid him bac 135 times over because of saving his life after his stroke. He was grateful that my wife Carol did what seemed like moving mountains to find the apartment he lived in before he died. We assumed the role of his caregivers, since his next of kin was several hundred miles distant, and he often said he wouldn't have made it without us.
Several times he said Carol was his angel. That wasn't meant merely as a term of endearment. Rather, he believed angels can appear in human form.
But back to the subject of giftedness for a bit. A mutual friend of ours once told me she thought Gerald wasted his life because he could have been a teacher, or he should have done something with his talents that would have benefitted more people. However, gifted individuals sometimes don't find a profession like that. They swing from interest to interest mentally, while perhaps holding down a meager job just to pay the bills. One expert's term for people like this is scanners. They do indeed make contributions to society, but not in the usual way.
With regard to teaching, he said he was a Bible teacher. You'll note from his posts that he taught classes on prophecy in a church many years ago. When our family did home church with him and Janie for a few years, he was indeed very good. He lamented not being able to do more Bible teaching for others. A couple of his efforts to start other Bible classes fell flat. This is one reason he wanted to do The Last Robin blog. It was an important outlet for him.
On a less positive note, some would describe Gerald as a hoarder. It got worse after his wife Janie died in August of 2005. You'd be shocked by all of the stuff at the trailer and in the sheds at the place he lived before his stroke. On that fateful day in late July 2012 when my wife and I found him unconscious, there was no room for medics to bring in their equipment. He was hauled out on his bed sheets.
I won't go into all that it took to clean things up at his former place of residence to bring it to some sense of reasonableness. It's sufficient to say several people put in a total of hundreds of hours of work. He told me he would have had more junk, but he was only born in 1935.
Seriously, going through his things at his old place was heart wrenching for me. The saddest thing was seeing so many projects he'd started and never finished. He cobbled together several contraptions, in whole or in part. While some may not have been practical, it would have been fantastic if the right person could have improved upon his designs and carried his ideas to fruition.
Plus, he owned thousands of books. Hundreds had to be pitched because they were in such bad shape, having been left in an outbuilding for years, barely protected from the elements. And still thousands of books remained. We found homes for a portion of them, but most were sold to someone who said he wouldn't just throw them away.
Incidentally, my wife and I were his power of attorney. Last fall (2013) Gerald agreed to let us sell his car for him, since he hadn't driven it and wouldn't be driving any longer. Then this past March he agreed to let my wife and I sell the possessions and property at his old place. This represented quite a change for him. I know he was sad to see things go, but he was also relieved not to worry about who would deal with all of his stuff. And he was comforted to know his trailer and possessions wouldn't be damaged when severe storms came.
There was truly a method to the madness of accumulation though. Gerald had what he called manias, where he'd absolutely obsess over a subject and milk it for what it was worth. This resulted in the purchase of numerous books and materials for projects. He bought so much from Amazon, I can't help but wonder if they'll notice his absence.
When an obsession ended, he'd go on to another one, carelessly leaving the previous one behind with all it had wrought. However, I learned much second-handedly from those obsessions, as if I were getting crumbs dropped from the banquet table.
Gerald was proud of his German ancestry and could come across as quite hard hearted. Many times he was. He dropped associations with friends and acquaintances when they didn't do or become what he expected.
But that hard heartedness wasn't the case as much as he led on. He was more sensitive to the needs of others than he would admit. You've seen it in some of the posts he's written here when he appeals to readers to look after those who could be described as "little people." Finding and spotlighting obscure people in the Bible or from his own life was important to him.
Gerald did more for others than he realized. I hope he'll get a rich heavenly reward for his charitable acts. I told him so more than once.
Years ago he and Janie conducted a Braille Bible class to help a handful of blind people in Cincinnati study the Scriptures together. A few years later in the 1980's he helped Susan Hall Franklin, a blind woman, to start a foundation and cassette library of Christian materials for the blind. From that effort sprang the Ruth Berry Versaw Library for the Blind, a large Christian library based in Oklahoma City. Neither library exists today.
Sadly, in the summer of 1987, Susan Franklin died in a drowning accident. I knew of Gerald through my correspondence with Susan, but I didn't even know his last name, until he and I began to correspond. Things grew from there. It was most humbling that he and Janie moved to central Missouri in the spring of 1993, within three miles of me, because he wanted to be near me.
He also had an interest in doing aquaponics--a combination of fish farming and hydroponic gardening--and I had been the one to introduce him to a man in southern Missouri who had such an operation in a greenhouse. As it happened, shortly after he and Janie moved to Missouri, I wrote a magazine article for "The Growing Edge" and Gerald took the photos for it. Neither of us ended up doing aquaponics.
One day while Gerald was in the hospital after his stroke, he told me I knew him in his declined years. I assume he was the better judge of that. I'm just glad I knew him when I did and for as long as I did. I knew him for nearly half of my life to date.
The Last Robin's Blog
Though Gerald did a tremendous amount of Internet surfing, he never wanted to learn how to blog. Thus, he was very grateful for Kymber's help in getting The Last Robin up and running. It wouldn't be here if not for her generous help initially. Then later he expressed thanks to me for putting up his posts. He expressed his thanks publicly to several here.
If you've followed this blog over the years, you may be aware that in the beginning he wrote what he called his "Glen stories" about a revered Bible teacher. Glen was who Gerald wanted to be. He said those stories, and even his later writings, came to him easily. I, on the other hand, struggle to write because words don't come readily.
All but one of the Glen stories was written before his heart attack and stroke. They have appeared on this site out of chronological order. Many have typos and errors in punctuation and paragraphing. But Gerald didn't care about that. All he wanted was to get the material out there. It's not too much of an exaggeration to say he was almost frantic about it. When I began putting up posts for him in 2010 or 2011, being a perfectionist, I made an effort to use better paragraphing and clean up as many errors as I could find.
He never wanted any of his wording changed. He was most unhappy when I showed one of his stories to a member of a writing group I belong to, and she made some minor changes. He never again asked me to have someone else review what he wrote. So, I always left his wording as it was, unless he left out a preposition or an article. This happened more often after his stroke.
When he had recovered sufficiently from his ordeal in 2012, he began writing enough short pieces to post one each day. He was more prolific than ever before. At one point he was over eight months ahead on daily posts. But as before, he didn't care if they showed up in any particular order. While many are on a given topic, they're not strung together in a series. However, if you're a regular reader, you've probably noticed he had his favorite themes on which he loved to rant.
Perhaps you've noticed several of his posts have contained the bitterness and laments of an old man. I suppose that's to be expected after all he'd been through over his 79 years. I hope that hasn't distracted you from seeing the real jewels, especially among his writings about prophecy and the need for each of us to know God's precious Word for ourselves.
Gerald firmly believed the laborer is worth his hire. In times past he paid me for doing work on this site. When my son did some posting for him, he paid him, too. Since the summer of 2012 he wasn't able to pay me for anything. That was OK with me because I believe publishing his posts is a ministry to him and his readers. Only God truly knows who he has reached and in what manner. My hope is for a heavenly reward for both of us, but especially for him.
Most of the Glen stories have been put into a handful of binders and distributed to prison inmates through a ministry conducted by his late wife's aunt. It was my dream one day to compile and publish all of his stories and pieces from this blog into something for wider distribution. It may happen one day in the future.
Kymber would like to see Gerald's writings live on and on. He left a tremendous impression on her as well. It's a key reason she started this blog on his behalf. Get a glimpse of her thoughts about Gerald here.
Incidentally, the title of this post today came about during one of the countless animated phone conversations between Gerald and me. It was his intention to write as many blog posts in advance as he could so they would go on for a time after his death. He quoted the Hebrews 11:4 phrase as a joke, but I thought it was appropriate for this post's title.
You've probably noticed Gerald had a thing about writing catchy titles, some of which had nothing to do with the content that followed. While he scorned cleverness when he thought it was inappropriate, he counted on his titles and the ideas contained in posts to stick in his readers' heads like catchy advertisements.
In fact, the name of this blog--The Last Robin--fits into this category. I think the name was intended to conjure up the image of a desolate world when one lone robin stays behind to sing out a message.
Gerald appreciated each of you his readers and marveled at those overseas who viewed this blog. He lamented to me often that he wasn't getting readers' attention because hardly anyone commented.
I should confess that we didn't try to make this site search engine optimized. Honestly, I'm not sure how that could have been done with the nature of the material here. Nonetheless, I assured Gerald he was making his mark because people who were meant to find it would, and I pray that is indeed the case.
Posts will continue through June 9, 2015. Then, obviously, afterward there will be no more new writings from The Last Robin. It was Gerald's hope for the end date of his last post to be June 19th, which would have been his 80th birthday. He came close. In the meantime, I do hope you'll keep reading because there are more insights to come. Feel free to leave comments as usual.
Kymber and her husband have said they'll make sure this blog remains available to all online, presumably as long as there's still an Internet.
A Concluding Note
As indicated in numerous posts, Gerald looked forward to death. He was by no means suicidal. He desperately wanted to leave this world to be with our blessed Lord. Staff at the hospital and nursing home two years ago didn't understand this. It's likely he was thought to be an unusual case by the kind workers with Hospice Compassus here in central Missouri as well.
Perhaps you don't understand his attitude toward death either. But be assured, he left us in good spirits--or at least much as was possible with the physical discomfort he experienced in the last week of his life here on Earth. He was very much concerned that he leave those around him with a positive Christian witness about death. I believe he has done that.
There will be no funeral service, per Gerald's request. He wanted no attention drawn to himself and requested the most minimalist burial possible. Anyone wishing to memorialize Gerald should send gifts to Hospice Compassus, 3050 I-70 Drive SE, Columbia, MO 65201.
You'll note from Gerald's writings here that he didn't believe the Bible taught we have immortal souls. He would want you to know that he's not flouncing around somewhere in heaven. He will be there--as all believers in Christ will--upon resurrection or Rapture. I'm convinced he's right on this, and I look forward to seeing him again when we're in the Lord's presence.
Here's one more quirky observation I feel compelled to share. Now and then Gerald would bring to my attention the appearance of the number 23 in movies and TV programs. He said that number represented change. You'll note he died on the 23rd of the month. The number 23 certainly represents change for those of us who knew Gerald, now that he is gone.
The Last Robin is greatly missed in this present world by those of us who knew and loved him. Thank God we will meet again under better circumstances. And it's all due to the wonderful workings of our blessed Lord.
- John Wesley Smith