April 2012 Volume 9

Patrick Johnson Tributes to Frankie Tenn

Patrick Johnson
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Frankie was two years ahead of me in high school, in the same class as my elder brother. He was one of those glamorously sophisticated “big boys” whose example I wanted to follow. I wanted to imitate his manners and his attitude. I strove to achieve what I took to be his hopes and aspirations.

I am grateful for the marvellous slide show of Frankie’s life that ran throughout the ceremony just concluded. It has shown me the private side of the man as I could not have known it personally; and likewise I am grateful for his daughter Natalie’s description of him in the remarkable variety of his interests and tastes and talents and preoccupations. In Natalie’s portrayal I have been shown even more intimately the individuality of his love and kindness and curiosity and enthusiasm for life, so various and so unfailing.

So, not having been a close personal friend, I can now see, in retrospect, a lot more of who and what this man really was and better understand why he made so profound an impact on me and called forth my admiration and affection even though, as I must repeat, we were not close personal friends.

When I got the news of Frankie’s death I wrote as follows to a number of my companions and fellow members of the KCOBA.

“The announcement of the death of Frankie Tenn is very sobering. He was an institution all in his own right. I sometimes wished, and wished it not merely sort of half-jokingly, that the KCOBA would convene a meeting purely for the sake of letting Frankie talk, freely and on no matter what subject came to his mind. He was always wonderfully entertaining and, as one says, a little bit, even considerably, larger than life. And a serious thoughtful man too, a man never to be forgotten.”

This is what my friend Lance Seymour generously answered.

“I visited with Frankie the evening before his passing. I was on a trip with him and his wife when he was honoured by the New York chapter a few years ago. He was wonderful company on the long drive. A virtual encyclopaedia who kept us all entertained with his breadth of knowledge. A truly wonderful person who will be missed.” And, most appropriately, Lance concluded “I have been asked to collect materials for publication in the newsletter as a tribute.”

In the copy of my letter sent to my friend Bert Reid, I went a bit further. I suggested that “For me this is an appropriate moment to be asking you to write the promised essay on the days we spent as school boys and all that they have meant to us since then.” His answer was as eloquent and generous as Lance’s reply. Here is what he said:

“The death of Frankie Tenn is indeed sobering. As the funerals and shadows of funerals increase it has been a period of deep reflection and pain. I guess I have been ‘raging at the dying of the light’. I hear your message and your request loud and clear. I have to dig deep inside to bring out and articulate all those treasured memories. I do fervently hope that I can handle them with the care and tenderness and respect that they deserve.”

To you Lurline and to your family, you who are now so sorely grieving, this is what I wish for you as, in Bert’s words, you dig deep and try to articulate and address your treasured memories: that all those who loved and cared for Frankie and love and care for you will fervently bring you all the care and tenderness and respect you and he deserve.

In closing I think of what Father Hunt said, that after being anointed and led in prayer Frankie remarked that he thought there was a third person in the room. And Peter Josephs has just said that at one point when the light in the room was dimmed, Frankie remarked how bright a light there was. We are led to assume that, as often seems to be the case at the time of death, a supernatural presence made itself known to Frankie in the on-going moment of his going.

Many years ago when I was meeting Frankie for the first time after a lapse of several years, he told me he had heard I had published an anthology. It was a very kind thought on his part but quite untrue. But, again, he hoped that one day I would. In answer to that kindness, offered to me so many years ago, and in keeping with what Father Hunt and Peter Josephs have told us concerning the possibility that a supernatural presence accompanied Frankie in his death, I would like now to recite a poem whose theme is very much in keeping with that idea and, given all that has been said about Frankie’s love of beauty, of music and flowers, for example – though it was not said specifically today that he was also a lover of poetry – I believe he would very much appreciate such a tribute:

                Naked, silent, ultimately bare,
                A driven counterpoint of doubt and fear,
                I live not otherwise, nor anywhere.
                So I stand here.
                Until on wheel of flame or burning tree,
                God's undefended death, my agony.
                Now, unaccountably, love is.
                I that was nothing am now suddenly Love,
                And Love now everything in its entirety.

That is my hope for Frankie, and that is the best condolence I can offer to you, Lurline, and to your family, that it is into the Entirety of such a Love that he is passing as he leaves us.

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