Everyone should have a Fran in their lives, at least a person like Fran Gaydos, a friend who has been a part of my life from more than 50 years.
Fran, who for several years has been a regular reader of this column even though she lived in Illinois, died recently. And like everyone who knew her, I feel a hole in my life where she once was.
Fran’s life and death reminded me how important and intricate friendship is. I came to know Fran in college in the 1960s, when she dated and then married Dave Gaydos, my college roommate, fellow English major and another good friend.
Fran, too, was an English major and loved books, and she led many extended conversations among us about literature. I attended Dave and Fran’s wedding in 1967, and they attended my marriage to Susan in 1968.
After that, our lives took different geographical but similar career paths. Fran and Dave remained in Illinois, and both taught English. After being stationed at Castle Air Force Base in Atwater, I stayed in California, also teaching English. During the past half-century we were only in sporadic contact, but we often thought about each other and our friendship remained strong.
Two years ago, when I went back to Illinois for the 50th anniversary of my college graduating class, I was lucky enough to be invited to stay with Fran and Dave. During our time together we also reconnected with other good friends we knew from college — Fred, Bill and Sheila.
In the conversations we all had with Fran, everything wonderful about our friendship came back, and all the marvelous qualities of Fran resurfaced — her intelligence, wit, laughter, kindness, compassion and congeniality, to name a few.
That’s part of the intricacy and mystery of friendship. Good friends stay bonded, though distant — interwoven in spirit, even though they seldom see or talk with each other.
It is a blessing, nevertheless, when good friends, separated by time and distance, can reconnect, because the intimate joy of friendship is then immediately rekindled. As Fran talked with the rest of us, I was transported back 50 years and felt all the good feelings I had then.
Fran was easy to like. She was a superb conversationalist. She listened attentively and empathically, responding astutely and adding her own thoughts and reflections. She could be intensely serious, but she also had a wonderfully mischievous sense of humor, easily making make her friends smile and laugh.
Fran was an innately understanding person and could feel the emotions experienced by her friends. She frequently offered support and encouragement. But she could also challenge a person’s thinking and encourage them to try looking at life from a different perspective.
She devoted her life to education and to her students’ success. In her 37 years as a high school educator in Naperville, she served as an English teacher so expertly that her school district acknowledged her as the Distinguished Educator of the Year.
Later, she moved into guidance and served as a counselor until her retirement, using her skills of listening, empathy and encouragement. She did so much for so many students and was beloved by her fellow teachers, who continued to think fondly of her after she retired.
Fran was also the heart and rock of her family, caring deeply about her husband Dave, her sons Andrew and David and her grandchildren, Madden and Genevieve.
She was kind to animals as well as humans, treating her bulldogs Chunk and Emma with tender loving care. But she will be remembered by me and many others who knew her primarily as a wonderful friend.
I hope, dear reader, that you have someone in your life like Fran. It may be, as in my case, a person who you once knew well and now are distant from in miles, but not in spirit.
If you have such a friend, continue to cherish that friendship. And if you have an opportunity to reconnect, as I did, don’t hesitate. When I last saw Fran, I knew she was having medical challenges, with cancer and with chemotherapy. But I never thought she would leave this world so soon.
It’s appropriate that this column appears in print on Nov. 1, the Feast of All Saints. I am certain that Fran is now numbered among them.
Having reconnected with Fran two years ago, I feel her spiritual presence more keenly than ever today, even though she’s gone and I won’t be able to hear her voice anymore. I can still see her smile clearly in my mind’s eye and sense her laughter and feel her warmth.
Friendship does not die with death. It lives on in the hearts of friends who still walk this earth.
On another note: The annual Los Banos Veterans Parade is Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. near the post office and ending at Veterans Hall. I encourage everyone who appreciates our veterans’ service to come and salute them.