• Jim Donaher

Why Is It The Greatest Generation?

It is because of men like Gordon Frank.


I had the blessing of spending time talking to my father's college roommate and friend for over 70 years the other night on the phone. He and my dad kept in touch from the time they entered The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, through their graduation, marriages, births of children and grandchildren, speaking at least twice per year, each calling the other on his birthday.


My dad passed away in 2015, and another friend - part of the 1940's version of 'The Three Amigos' passed a few years prior to that. But Gordon goes on, sounding as sharp and strong as he ever did.


The Citadel class ring statue at the entrance to the Charleston, SC campus

This is a man who worked in private practice as an ophthalmologist until he was 70. Then he went to work for the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Dallas, where he practices for another 18 years, deciding 'enough is enough.' He was 88 then. He performed eye surgery right up until this second retirement.


Gordon loved being a doctor because he always felt that he could make people happy. That was his driving motivation. He also loves to talk, and a steady stream of patients and family members gave him many opportunities to tell stories, find out about people's lives and generally be an engaged, friendly, pleasant human being.


Whenever I talk to him I tell him he should have a career in voice-over work. His deep, basso voice and gentle Texas lilt would rival James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, and any other spokes-voice you could name. You can hear him speak on this video, recorded in 2014 by the Dallas Jewish Historical Society in their oral history project. I can vouch for the fact that the voice remains as strong as it was 7 years ago.


Gordon, and his wife of many years, Paula, just came through a very difficult time in Texas when the power grid failed and snow and ice blanketed a region that is ill-equipped to handle it. Many suffered frozen pipes, lost heat, water damage, as well as hypothermia and starvation. Somehow, the Lord blessed this wonderful couple by sparing them these difficulties, which would have been a huge challenge for people in their 90s. Prayer works!


Until the COVID restrictions, Gordon swam at the local YMCA 3 times a week, going 'at least a mile.' He stays in close touch with his daughters Cindy and Jill, who live in the area, and his grandchildren, now grown, living away from family.


You might think that a 95-year-old man whose best and oldest friends have passed on would give up on trying to stay in touch. With Gordon Frank, you would be wrong. He told me he is still in touch with friends from kindergarten, and when those friends passed on, he stayed in touch with their children.


That is why, after over 70 years of friendship with my father, that Gordon continues to stay in touch with me. He says I sound like my dad, which gives him a certain amount of comfort, even though he misses his friend very much. I like talking to Gordon because he brings my dad and my mom alive in a way that I don't get to see much. He knew them when they were young, childless and single.


I only recall meeting Gordon in person one time. He, Paula, Cindy and Jill visited our house on Lyme Street in 1977 or 1978. They were the nicest people - easygoing, down to earth. I believe it was in the fall, as I seem to remember being in high school at the time.


Gordon's daughters were gorgeous. Cindy was a year or two older than me, and Jill was a year or so younger than my brother Mike. Neither of us could take our eyes off them. It says a fair amount about being a 16 year-old boy that 44 years later, that Jill and Cindy, and the chicken cordon bleu my mother made for dinner are all I really remember about the evening.


The best memory I have of Gordon though is how much fun my dad had talking to him. He would sit there and laugh and tell stories and then be quiet and listen to once and they'd go back and forth on the phone for an hour, laughing themselves silly.


They call the generation of my parents, "The Greatest Generation." Some scoff at that romanticized image of the era of Americans that saved the world from Hitler, jumpstarted the most furious period of growth and prosperity in the history of the world and even put men on the moon.


The Greatest Generation was not perfect. But some of the values and traditions and plain old manners that they embodied are fading away in a world where information moves faster than we can process it. In a world where friendships still exist, but they are much easier to maintain at a distance than they used to be. If Gordon, my dad, and their third amigo, Roy, were young today, they'd be texting each other daily, talking regularly, and Facetiming or Zooming on holidays and other occasions.


They didn't have these tools which we now take for granted, yet because the bond was so strong and the importance of such friends was so ingrained, these men stayed close, even when they were far away for years at a time. And their wives were close too. When the Franks visited Boston, they would invite my parents out for dinner and they would laugh and laugh and stay out way too late. Mom and Dad would talk about it for days afterward.


The other night, as we were hanging up, Gordon told me, "The next time Paula and I are in Boston, we'd love to take you two out for a nice dinner. Does that sound okay?"


I don't know if they plan to do much traveling anymore, but if he calls and says he's in town, we will drop what we're doing and go see them.


Because friends are important. Especially now that it's a friendship that's lasted 76 years. And counting.

Jim Donaher is an author and blogger from Massachusetts. He recently published his first book, "Call Him, He's Home: A Regular Person's Guide to Prayer", now available on Amazon. Click on the title to take a look.


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