A Founder Passes: Fran Petersen at age 89
By George St.Clair
Fran Petersen 1912-2002
Memorial, La Selva Beach, California June 8, 2002
Walt Whitman wrote of the following paradox in his epic poem Leaves of Grass:
"GREAT IS LIFE... GREAT IS DEATH... DEATH IS GREAT AS LIFE."
Fran was a soft-spoken man... but he knew how to get your attention... I certainly never heard him raise his voice in anger. So with apologies to Fran, I WILL raise my voice today and SHOUT LOUD and CLEAR for ALL TO HEAR:
"FRAN PETERSEN WAS A GREAT MAN... because
FRAN PETERSEN MADE A GREAT DIFFERENCE... TO A GREAT MANY PEOPLE!"
As we've heard his family tell it today, Fran Petersen was never very far from the center of the action. His life was one long adventure. More importantly he made others WANT to join in that adventure - the mark of a true leader.
However, never far removed from this keen sense of adventure was his commitment to serve others. For this reason Scouting, and particularly the White Stag Program, was a perfect fit for him - and for those of us fortunate to have crossed his path - a fit that was to greatly benefit the rest of us. It was this synergy of two things: ADVENTURE and SERVICE TO OTHERS that defined Fran's life.
Fran thrived on adventure his entire life, and over the past 35+ years knowing him - because my memory is not my strongest asset - I remember most clearly the recent outings with Fran and close friend Jean Harrison (here today), another Wood Badge 3-bead holder and avid birder.
I'll never forget watching Jean and Fran - all of 87 years, fording the icy-cold and overflowing Bixby Creek, with water up to their thighs. I do believe he TRULY enjoyed the experience... though perhaps not as much as putting on warm, dry socks afterwards!
And then, of course, the three of us were always searching for the elusive California Condor - not to mention Cougar(!). Sure enough, after many failed attempts, and on the ONE trip down to Big Sur when Fran WASN"T with us, Jean and I were astounded to spot at close range not one, but ELEVEN condors! Neither Jean nor I were looking forward to telling Fran of the thrilling experience, thinking how disappointed he might be... Not Fran! He was beside himself with JOY that Jean had finally seen her first Condors in the wild. Fran will be with us, I'm sure, when Jean spots her first Cougar in the wild! But this incident so typified Fran: always thoughtful, considerate, and generous. The story has an even happier ending: Several weeks later, on another trip to Big Sur with my father and as if on cue, Fran would see TEN magnificent condors soaring majestically just over our heads.
Fran's TRUE QUEST - and the one from which he received the most satisfaction - was seeing and helping OTHERS achieve their goals. Whether it was the search for an albino Redwood tree, the Bald Eagle or a California Condor - or even the lofty leadership goals of White Stag, Fran believed no hurdle was too high, no challenge too great for those who made the effort to develop the "hands, head, and heart" to overcome them - and he worked all his life to instill these traits in others.
Fran now joins another friend, Scouter, and White Stag legend, Maury Tripp, who once wrote:
"Man's greatness is measured by the height of the hurdles he can surmount and what he gives of himself to his fellows"
Thank you Fran, for helping the rest of us do better than we thought we could... and for making an adventure out of service to others - and service to others an adventure!
In June, 1997, White Stag held its 40th reunion down in Camp Pico Blanco, and dedicated a carving of a White Stag and plaque honoring Fran, Béla Bánáthy, Paul Sujan, and Joe St. Clair. Fran had just been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and so was unable to attend. Instead, I asked him to write a few words which I was privileged to share then, and which I am privileged to share with you today. I believe his words are as appropriate today as they were 5 years ago:
For one reason or another, there are many other stories about Fran that we have not heard. The Petersen Family now invite those of you wishing to share your remembrances with us today... to do so now...
For Fran... From George St. Clair
By Robinson Jeffers
A little too abstract, a little too wise,