Ode to a Friend
Frank. Frank Roy is gone. I can hardly think of a world without Frank Roy. I heard the news on Saturday (April 11) late afternoon, that he had passed earlier that morning. Late morning I had shared a poem on Facebook, "A Poem of Hope, written and spoken by Wendell Berry. I had heard it the day before and wanted to listen to it again (I hadn't heard then of Frank's passing). On hearing the poem a second time, I thought, "This is so Frank, he would have liked it.” It was just like him; thoughtful and kind. A message for troubled times.
The next morning upon waking, I said to my husband, "The first day without Frank.” The truth is, there was never enough time with Frank. Frank was like the Mr. Rogers of the neighbourhood, and the “neighbourhood” was the everyone-who-knew-him neighbourhood. He touched many lives. He was a teacher who touched many young lives, a traveller and an environmentalist and conservationist.
My family (Mom, Dad, brothers and sisters) met him in 1974 when we moved to the city from the farm. I did the math yesterday – that makes it 46 years that I knew Frank. He lived on the corner just two houses from us. I wasn't around much after I graduated in 1976, as I went to live in other provinces and then lived abroad for 3 years. But Frank was always in some way 'there', his name seemed invariably woven into a family conversation.
What made Frank special was that he was always curious and interested in learning about who you were and what you were up to. He liked all things of beauty and he loved the arts. Frank engaged with you and you always felt when you were with him, that you "mattered."
About a year ago, on a whim I decided to call him and see if he would be free for lunch (he was such a social butterfly, would he be available?). He said he was at home and to come over. Before I left the house to pick up lunch for us, I thought I would take the precious doll clothes that I had been sewing for my girlfriend’s daughter who had breast cancer (it was as healing for me to make the clothes as it was to give them to her) - I remembered my friend’s daughter when she was a young girl. I wanted to show Frank, but struggled for a moment as to whether I should take them or not. My first thought was, "Don't take them, Frank will think you're silly - doll clothes for God sake!?" My immediate next thought was, "No, if there is anyone in the world you can show your works of art it’s Frank". And, so I brought them with me. He thought they were beautiful and he marvelled with enthusiasm at the fine detailing and delicate fabrics I had selected. Frank liked all things beautiful.
Doll dress - Green ballgown.
Doll coat - checked fabric with pink duppioni silk lining.
Doll dress - Cotton indigo batik.
In 2005, Frank received an Honorary Degree for a Doctor of Science from the University of Saskatchewan for his contribution for education, conservation and international service. In 2005 he received Saskatchewan’s highest award, The Order of Merit.
One of the stories I recall Frank telling was the time he’d spent in Gambia, West Africa. He’d gone there to teach teachers in the schools. He related that after being there for a number of months he attended one day, a very large gathering of sorts. Several days after the gathering one of the local women said she’d seen him there. Surprised, he said, “My goodness, there were so many people, how did you ever see me?” She looked at him, smiled quietly, knowingly, and said, “…Mr. Roy” (leaving him to figure out the obvious). Frank had lived there as part of the community for so many months, he’d forgotten he was white! Frank, what a hoot!
Resting with Frank behind the Mendel Art Gallery on a birding trip during a visit home. Photo by Pat Clarke.
As an environmentalist and conservationist, one of Frank’s last great legacies was the book, "The Birds of Saskatchewan," (click the link to see an interview with Frank about the book launch) which he co-authored with Stuart Houston and Alan Smith. A labour of love, it took them ten years to write. Frank often joked, "It's a race with the undertaker" (to finish the book). I was thankful that in January of 2019, we were able to attend the book signing at McNally Robinson, the local independent bookstore. The house was full.
McNally Robinson, January 29, 2019. Book signing of The Birds of Saskatchewan.
Frank at the book signing.
Me being a groupie with Frank, the night of the book signing.
One of the last photos of Scott and I with Frank last summer (2019).
Frank was "our Frank", but not just our Frank, everyone's Frank. A shining star, a shining light that influenced so many lives. Frank, the world isn't the same without you. You are soaring with the birds now. Go swiftly dear, good Frank. May you find your wings in heaven.