My friend Frank Pierce died unexpectedly on Christmas Eve.
Frank is a friend who I initially “met” online. Meeting someone online nowadays is not a big deal, but around 1990 it was a weird thing to do or to even acknowledge. In those days, there was an Internet, but it was not accessible to the average person. I met Frank on The Back of the North Wind, an electronic bulletin board system that resided on the spare PC of a woman named Dawn Gibson who, if memory serves me right, lived in Arlington, Virginia. In those days, you used your 2400-baud modem to dial up these computers, play games, swap software and engage in electronic conversations with people in your community. I wrote more about those days a year or two back in this entry, if you are interested.
The Back of the North Wind drew an eclectic crowd. You had to know someone who knew someone to get on the board because it was not advertised on Mike Focke’s BBS list. My friend Debbie who I met on a board called Zonzr directed me there. I quickly spent almost all of my electronic social life on Dawn’s board. A good part of the reason was Frank Pierce. Frank was an older gentleman who was fifty something at the time. He was virtually unique among people in his age group for indulging in this online community thing. His passion was discussing politics and he quickly found that an online community allowed him to engage in his habit very easily. Somewhat to Dawn’s disgruntlement (for she hated politics) her board was nearly taken over by an inner ring of Washington area amateur policy wonks. Frank and I were two of the main contributors to those political discussions.
The thing about Frank though was unlike lots of amateur policy wonks, he knew about what he was talking. Frank had a depth of understanding that always amazed me. Our political discussions evolved on The Back of the North Wind and later on the message board I set up and which is still in business, The Potomac Tavern. (Frank was the co-host.) There was not much about the world that Frank had not studied in some depth. When the conversation moved from politics to other areas like religion, Frank was equally well informed.
Since I “met” Frank in 1990, I figure I have known him for sixteen years. Over those years, I figure I actually met him in person less than a dozen times. Our last meeting was about two years back when I met him at a Starbucks near his house. We spent about an hour discussing Potomac Tavern business and just chitchatting. I also had the privilege of being invited to his house a couple times. Once he hosted a Back of the North Wind get together in his backyard. We did these get togethers once or twice a year for a number of years. More recently, he invited me to stop by so I could take him for a test drive in my new hybrid.
Frank was tall, thin as a rail, bony, grey haired and both gregarious and scholarly at the same time. He and his wife Nancy had been married forever. If my memory serves me correctly, he is also survived by two sons and a daughter. He was active in the local German American community, spoke excellent German, and even wrote a newspaper column for a German newspaper called, no lie, The Potomac Tavern. It discussed current political topics happening in our nation’s capital in the context of a real tavern with a regular crew of erudite patrons. Frank recently related a story of a reader who came to Washington and was disappointed to discover that there was no Potomac Tavern in the city. Frank’s portrayal of this fictional tavern was so convincing he had some people fooled.
For among Frank’s many talents, he was an excellent writer. He wrote a number of books. None of them was a best seller, but he knew how to target the small markets. You can buy a number of them from online sources like Amazon.com. Writing alone would suffice as a creative outlet for most people. However, Frank was also a photographer. On The Potomac Tavern, if you dig for them, you will see many an amazing photograph taken by him, often carefully retouched with Adobe Photoshop. Frank’s photography occasionally dabbled on the risqué side. He spent some time doing figure photography, and a number of his models posed in the buff. I recall one trip to his house when he showed me his portfolio of nude photography. As with all his other art forms, he excelled here too.
Frank was also incredibly generous with both his time and money. While on The Back of the North Wind, he grew to know a woman named Judy. Judy lived in the backwoods of Virginia somewhere. Frank saw potential in Judy: a very smart woman who simply did not have the resources to go to college. For whatever reason, Frank decided that he would make an investment in Judy. I do not know to what extent he did it, but I know he helped pay her way through college. Frank could do these things, you see, because along with all his other talents he was a shrewd investor. This, plus his modest lifestyle, gave him the leeway to occasionally indulge in these acts of targeted charity.
I expect to blog more about Frank in the weeks ahead. I am getting details of his death second hand, but it sounds like Frank died from the complications of bronchitis. I can say that I was shocked to learn he had died, since I believe he was in the bottom half of his seventies. He always seemed in such abnormally good health. He was so skinny and his mind was always so sharp that I fully expected him to be pontificating on my forum into his nineties.
Among the many topics I explored with Frank over the years was aging. For me death was and still is a very scary thing. Frank was not scared. He was pragmatic: there is nothing you can do to stop death, so the only thing to do was to enjoy what life that is given to you to its fullest. From a man who did not seem the least bit religious, this was a both a very pragmatic and positive philosophy. He succeeded in walking his talk. He lived his final years as if he expected to live a hundred years more. He said he was not concerned about death, but he was concerned about leaving a legacy. At that, Frank clearly succeeded.
Frank taught me many life lessons I might never have grasped otherwise. I am trying to emulate his philosophy and to see every day as a gift full of boundless potential. If I can manage to do it, and I have a lot of work to do to achieve this, then perhaps Frank will have passed on to me his most treasured gift.
Frank, I am going to miss you like crazy. You have been such a positive presence in my life these last sixteen years. You are one of these people who, when you pass on, leave a large and beneficent wake. You touched and inspired many people. We in your online world were a small fraction of them. Thank you for your friendship, which has touched me in ways I still do not fully realize. I am hopeful that I will carry forward your positive spirit into the second half of my life. I hope that I can draw on your positive energy and pull some people into my wake too.
Rest in peace, dear friend.