Franklin Lewis
Franklin Lewis

Obituary of Franklin Dee Lewis

Franklin Dee Lewis February 11, 1933 - November 26, 2022 �lonely rivers sigh, �Wait for me, wait for me, I'll be coming home, wait for me!' --Hy Zaret, Unchained Melody Born to Clarence and Minnie Lewis in rural Oklahoma on February 11, 1933, Frank was the 15th and final child born to his family (although three of them would not survive to adulthood). His father, a carpenter, died of cancer when Frank was only three years old, so his rearing fell to his mother and multitude of siblings, whom affectionately nicknamed him "Frankie Dee" (or "Wankie Dee," as he called himself before he could pronounce his name correctly). His family moved to the Southwestern Colorado community of Cahone, north of Cortez, shortly thereafter, where they established a homestead of 320 acres of farmland. He grew up sharing a two-room farmhouse with his mother and siblings. Like so many children of the Great Depression, Frank learned early the value of frugality and self-reliance, which, applied with an unshakable belief in hard, honest work and in always doing things the right way, guided him well throughout his entire life. He grew up to be unfailingly honest, believing that a man should never take anything that doesn't belong to him, should never make promises unless he fully intends to keep them, and should never cheat-at anything. But he was not one to sermonize about these principles-he lived them, without fanfare, without ego, without regard to whether anyone was watching or not. Nowhere was this more evident than in the way he carried himself: ramrod straight, shoulders squared, head unbent. He said he'd made a decision when he was very young to stand as tall as if he owned the world. After he graduated from Montezuma County High School in Cortez, he bounced around for a few years, working in uranium mines and as a roughneck in oilfields in New Mexico. After being drafted into the army, he served in the Korean War; his job and training was as a radar operator, but he distinguished himself as a marksman, competing as the most accurate shooter on his unit's team. While he never saw combat, he was never very far away from it. After leaving the army, he attended Fort Lewis College for a year before being lured back into the labor-intensive, high paying opportunities in the oil fields. Then, in October of 1960, he caught his first glimpse of the woman who would turn his life upside-down. He took one look, turned to his friend and said, "I'm gonna marry that girl!" Her name was Bobbie Leonard, and he did manage to talk her into dancing with him that night, only to find out that she was engaged to a Pueblo man, and she was raising three young boys from her first marriage on her own. A lesser man might have found these inconveniences a bit daunting. Frank was not a lesser man. He let her know in no uncertain terms that he was the man for her, and he would always be nearby until she came to her senses. As it turned out, the man she was engaged to proved to be totally unreliable-hardly the man she deserved, according to Frank. Apparently, she agreed, and on New Year's Eve, our mother and soon-to-be stepfather went out on their first "official" date. Six months later, they married. Sixty years after that, they became separated for the first time in all those years, when Mom died in his arms. She and Dad (let it be known that our stepdad was never a stepfather to us; he became our Dad from the time he entered our lives) were the central characters of a quintessential Storybook Romance. They lived their entire lives as best friends, lovers, partners, and devoted parents. And when they gave birth to a fourth son, Mark, in May of 1962, it might have been easy for that aforementioned lesser man to favor his "real" son over the other three-it would, after all, seem only natural. Again, Frank was not a lesser man. He loved us all-Mark and Steve and Stu and Scotty-equally and unequivocally and selflessly and wholeheartedly-right up until the moment he left us all, gathered around his bed. He died seven hours after what would have been Mom's 92nd birthday. We're convinced he waited those extra seven hours because he felt bad having to leave us behind to mourn our profound loss. He spent her birthday with us while we said our goodbyes, and then he slipped away to join his sweetheart. I can't imagine them ever being separated again. I can, however, imagine them dancing-the thing they most loved doing together-for all time. Dad settled into a job with Meadow Gold Dairies when he married Bobbie and moved us in a transfer to Colorado Springs a month after Mark was born. He awoke every morning at 3:30 to drive his milk route, sometimes returning home after 5 or six in the evening. After supper, he'd sit down to read the paper, and within just a minute or two, we'd hear him softly begin to snore. Then the hands holding the newspaper would slip down, snapping him awake again, and the process would start all over again. I don't think he ever got much reading done. But the point is, he worked himself to exhaustion every day for us, never complaining, always looking out for us in his sweet, gentle way. He'd known what he was taking on when he suddenly had a family of five-then six-to support, and he said he never regretted a moment of it. Then, after working for Meadow Gold until retirement age, he retired for a year before taking on a new "career" delivering Ryder trucks for another fifteen years. He hated idleness, so one year of retirement was enough for him. The only reason he left Ryder was because his macular degeneration had reached a point where he could no longer drive. He was fun-loving and mischievous. He adored teasing us when we were little, and he never stopped, gradually branching out to a wider audience consisting of our girlfriends, wives and children. No one was safe or immune from his teasing. But it was always-always-gentle and harmless and affectionate, coming as it did from a place of love. He also had his little idiosyncrasies. Shortly after we moved to Colorado Springs, Mom saved up and bought him a unicycle-something he'd always wanted to learn to ride-for his birthday. He mastered it quickly, and then set about teaching his boys to ride it as we each grew big enough. As it turned out, all of us became quite adept at riding it-well, all of us but Mom, who never quite reached a desire to learn how. He always seemed to have the camera he'd acquired in Korea with him, and today we're all blessed to have the million pictures he snapped of us over the years. He also loved to be working on something-anything-with his bare hands; whether it be fixing the car or building a fence or mowing the grass or finishing the basement, you could always tell where he was hard at it because he would be whistling. The man could barely carry a tune in a bucket vocally, but he could whistle like an operatic virtuoso, full of trills and tremolos-and he spent a good part of every day doing just that. He also played a mean bluegrass harmonica (Turkey in the Straw was a masterpiece!); at nineteen, when he was working as a ranch hand near Albuquerque, he and his harmonica jammed with 15-year-old Glen Campbell around a campfire. Finally, he had a deep and abiding love of motorcycling. He owned a series of big touring bikes later in his life, and he and Mark have many priceless memories of getting on their bikes and heading for Canada (or wherever). On an earlier trip, when he had a couple of much smaller bikes, he and I took off for five days camping, logging over 900 miles without ever leaving the Colorado mountains. Talk about priceless! He was a shy, soft-spoken man, but his six-foot-two-and-a-half inch good looks and country-boy charm made Bobbie the envy of many a woman. He possessed a sort of aw-shucks boyishness and Will Rogers affability that often belied the depth of his intelligence. Early in their relationship, for example, Dad once told Mom about a time he'd "clumb" up a mountain, making him sound a lot like a young Andy Griffith hillbilly. But Mom, who was always one to gently correct our grammar, exerted a great deal of influence on him, and he always accepted the corrections with good humor and affability. We all grew up loving his rural country idioms, of which there were seemingly thousands. To name a few of what we called "Dad-isms": � "Why, I'm hungrier'n a she-wolf with nine suckin' pups!" � "She's uglier'n a mud fence." � "Well, saw me off and call me Shorty!" � "Back in oh-two, when I was a pup�" � "I need to go shake the dew from my lily." (Which never failed to draw a plaintive "Fra-ank!" from Mom) � "That's cuter'n a speckled pup!" � "I �spect not, said the constipated fly." � "That was gross enough to puke a buzzard off a gut-wagon!" But even though he exuded this definite Kettles of the Ozarks persona (albeit to a much lesser degree over the passage of years), he was an extraordinarily wise and shrewd man. Call it "country wisdom" or whatever, he was a problem-solver of the greatest ilk. He knew when to smell a rat with any of our bad behavior, no matter how cunning we thought we were being. He knew when to let us trip and stumble over and through our earth-shatteringly hopeless problems and mistakes, and when to step in and patiently guide us through them. He possessed a sharp, logical mind that over the years prompted all of us to ask "what would Dad do?" to help us navigate our way past life's dilemmas-a practice that is today still entrenched within us all. He treated everyone he encountered with respect and curiosity, and he was always there to offer any and all help to anyone who needed it-the kind of man who would get up to shovel the walk, and just keep on shoveling until his neighbors' walks were cleared, too. In his quiet way, he was fiercely protective of the people he loved, above all to his beloved Bobbie, to whose love he dedicated his entire life. In word and action, he loved her as deeply as love has ever known, and woe be to anyone who might pose any kind of threat, human or natural, to his girl. With that in mind, we all speculated amongst ourselves in the period shortly before and after Mom's passing as to how long Dad would "last" before he joined her. Much to our astonishment, he carried on a whole fifteen some-odd months before succumbing to the gradual but inexorable failing of his great heart, amidst his near-blind and near-deaf misery borne of having to, at last, depend on others to help him survive. For, as much as he longed to be back with Bobbie, he believed in his heart that a man should go on living until the Good Lord came to take him, and, as always he lived his last few months honoring those beliefs. His favorite Bible verse, slightly misquoted, was "As a man believeth, so shall he live." He was never much of one for organized religion, but his principles were as holy as any ever expressed in the Bible. As with everything, he didn't preach it-he lived it. He was, in short, the absolute model of integrity; but if you ever said that to him, he'd likely simply give a small smile of thanks, shrug, and say, "Isn't that how you're supposed to be?" He would be somewhat surprised, I think, to learn of the depth of sorrow his passing has inspired to so very many people-his neighbors are crushed to lose him, his coffee-drinking old-timer buddies equally bereft, and we, his family, so full of humble joy and heart-crushing love for having been the center of his universe for these sixty-one years since he came into ours. But we are almost-almost-equally destroyed and bewildered by the idea that we now have to somehow live life without him. First, our wonderful mother; now, our Wankie-Dee. In an age in which all of our movies seem to be about Marvel and DC Superheroes ad nauseum, it's a wonder to reflect on the idea that we knew the most quietly heroic man who ever lived, and for all these years we were allowed to keep him to ourselves. And if you think I'm exaggerating, you most certainly did not know Frank. He requested that no services be held. He is survived by his family: sons, Steve, Scott, and Mark (we lost Stu twelve years ago) and their many wives and lovers; his grandchildren, Corey (also with him now), Dana, David, Barb, Jesse, Jeff, Tim, Kassidy, Chelsea, and Sarah; several great-grandchildren; his brother, LaVerl, and many, many cousins, nieces and nephews.
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