DOB: November 28, 1939
DOD: August 13, 2010
You might have met her first on the internet, as I did. She was a prolific contributor to many discussion lists, Whippet-L, Gazehound-L, Racing-L, The Literate Canine (TLC), and VetMed, among others. She made me wonder who she was, this faceless correspondent who shared lyrics to songs, stanzas of poetry, references to historical events, book reports, recipes for southern cooking, pedigrees and memories of dog shows from decades past, all with a clarity that could be only be labeled as eidetic memory.
If you called her to make arrangements to meet up at a dog event, her gravelly voice and deep southern drawl would wash over you, leaving you convinced that you were about to meet a true original. And that, my friends, would be putting it mildly.
She'd tell you to meet her there, saying, "You can't miss me. I'll be the one wearing the Minnie Pearl straw hat." And you'd have no trouble spotting her. True to her word, she'd be out in her big straw hat, complete with dangling tag, just waiting to talk whippets, pedigrees, recipes, or summer reading lists. And chances are, she'd have a brown bag lunch waiting for you in her cooler.
The daughter of well-known haberdasher, Joseph Frank, and his wife, Mary Sue, MaryJane Frank grew up in the family home on Woodmont Circle in Nashville, TN. As a teen, MJ worked in her father's business, Frank & Sons, at 209 Sixth Avenue North where she learned the ins-and-outs of running a business. Frank & Sons clothiers sold quality clothing to high-end clients, many in the recording industry. Some Frank & Sons products are still displayed in the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, AL. Although Frank & Sons closed many years ago, the building in which the business was located still bears her father's name. Her family worshipped at The Temple Congregation Ohabai Sholom in Nashville, where her parents were members.
MJ was raised in the south, born in an age when society was more formal and well-mannered. She was the closest thing to a southern belle that I have ever known. She had that uniquely southern attribute of being able to inflect the phrase "Bless your heart" with many meanings, making her meaning entirely clear, without further explanation.
As a college student, MJ worked as a sales clerk in a record store and had many great stories about people who shopped there. One of my favorites was about people who came in to purchase a particular album, considered so racy in its day that men blushed when asking for it: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass: Whipped Cream and Other Delights. This tickled my funny bone, as I remember sneaking a peek at the cover art as a kid. It seems pretty tame these days.
MaryJane graduated from renowned Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN with a Master's Degree in Education and made a career teaching English Literature.
As breeder of approximately a dozen litters of Frankly Whippets from 1967 to 1984, MaryJane enjoyed some success in the show ring. She was the self-described "worst handler on earth". It was her belief that if her dogs happened to win, they would have to be exceptional to overcome the handicap of her incompetent handling. One of her most interesting stories was one of whelping a litter of whippets during the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, with a shotgun by her side. It was a terrifying tale, rivaled only by the burning of Atlanta in "Gone with the Wind", lacking only the crying Prissy, "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies, Miss MaryJane!"
MaryJane's dogs were incorporated into several well-known breeders' programs and still appear in 5-generation pedigrees of dogs who are competing today in the ring, on the coursing field and on the race track. MJ was a great fan of the multipurpose whippet, as evidenced by the success of her own breedings and her interest in many of the dogs from race and show breedings in recent years.
She moved around a lot, sometimes staying with dear friends Louise Little and Maxine Bullock at Old Oaks Farm in Georgia. Other times, she was employed as nursing home care or a live-in companion, most recently caring for Lynne McGowan's father, Francis Selby, in Delaware, until his death in 2004. Eventually, she settled in Eugene, Oregon where she found a niche for herself as on-site property manager for Hosanna/Novack Properties. It was fortuitous that the 2008 AWC Whippet National was held Eugene. If you attended, you may have had the pleasure of seeing her MaryJane at that event.
MaryJane loved many things...whippets, of course, but so much more: Cats, books, Laurel Burch artwork, ballet (Baryshnikov and Nureyev, in particular), the music of her era and more contemporary works, poetry, classic literature, the lyrics of Tom Lehrer, history, Harry Potter, the Olympics (especially The Flying Tomato), and the internet. Her interests were incredibly diverse.
A talented artist with a needle, MJ created works of embroidery that are cherished by people who were lucky enough to acquire them. She was also an accomplished storyteller, with a talent for capturing the attention of her audience, to surprise and delight with the dénouement of every tale, a skill learned during her time with the theater in college, no doubt.
Although she was a devotee of television shows that featured famous chefs, she was an accomplished cook, in her own right. She loved to plan parties for friends and neighbors for festive occasions, her most recent being an "unretirement party" for a favored co-worker several weeks ago. In fact, in the hours since her passing, the number of people who have raved about cooking has been impressive. She was known for her roasted leg of lamb, meat loaf, creative chicken recipes and of course, her chicken soup, a guaranteed cure-all for colds and flu. Her artistry with pork roasts and bacon was spectacular. There was always corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day and Hoppin' John for Easter. She had killer dessert recipes, including a fabulous Christmas almond cake. My personal favorite was sausage & cheese biscuits, best enjoyed for brunch at race meets. One particular accolade from a friend stood out among the rest: Her cheese grits were so good; they'd make you slap your mama.
Her most recent accomplishment, something she had been trying to achieve for years, was bringing a Stargazer lily into bloom in her garden. It brought her great joy, in the weeks before she passed, to sit on her garden swing and view the brilliant pink and white blossoms while inhaling their fragrant perfume on the evening air.
Perhaps it was her upbringing that made her generous to a fault and fiercely loyal to people who treated her with kindness. Or perhaps life experiences forged those qualities. Either way, MaryJane was a decent, honest person with a keen sense of fairness, qualities I very much admired. She was a generous mentor, sharing her values with people around her, along with her considerable historical perspective. Many people were blessed to receive her support in starting their careers as exhibitors and/or breeders in dogs. I like to think the whippet fancy is better, stronger, and more welcoming for having had MaryJane as a member for over 50 years.
Sadly, MaryJane received news that she was terminally ill with lung cancer on Sunday, August 8th. Hospice care began the next day, in her home. She was made comfortable by friends who attended her every need: neighbors, Scott and Alicia, and employers, Tom & Tina Novack. She was blessed to have inspired such loyalty in the people around her.
To speak with her on the phone, you never would have guessed she was ill. I spoke with her daily upon her diagnosis. She told me that she was most grateful that her body gave out before her mind. On the last day of her life, she had her long, thick hair, grown beyond waist length, cut to donate to Locks of Love. That evening, she gave me a long list of people to notify regarding her illness. The next morning, five days after her illness had been diagnosed, I received word that she had passed in her sleep.
Andreason's Funeral Home has care of her arrangements and has posted an obituary to their website. Please feel free to leave condolence messages there to share with those that MJ has left behind: friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and peers in the whippet community.
MaryJane will be laid to rest at Domino Whippets in Coventry, CT where she had asked to have her remains interred beside those of her old friend, Wheatland Bengal. Friends will gather there with their whippets to hold a celebration of her life.
Because she savored the arrival of every Whippet News Annual and enjoyed helping friends plan their advertisements, there are plans to submit an advertisement in her memory for the 2010 edition. Friends who would like to be listed therein and/or contribute photos, memories, or funds for this purpose may contact Donna Miner, 15 Joshua Lane, Coventry, CT 06238 or Dominodogs@charter.net
For those who are so inclined, donations to the Whippet Health Foundation would be another wonderful way to remember MaryJane. Whippet Health Foundation, Inc.; Susan Bolduc, Treasurer; Box 598 Miner Road;Otis, MA 01253-0598
In memory of her gentle soul and the joy with which she lived her life, please join us in lighting a candle in her memory on September 1st, 2010 at 7PM.
As it was MaryJane's habit have the final word in most discussions, I will close with the Dorothy Parker quote at the bottom of each of her e-mail communications and invite you all to "Be curious" in honor of having known her.
"The cure for boredom is curiosity.
There is no cure for curiosity."