Frances Murray – Thanks & RIP

Forgive me, but my responsibility to inform in a timely fashion is currently at odds with my personal feelings of loss. On Wednesday (1/3), I received the sad news that Frances Murray died that afternoon. I can’t think of a better way to say it: This week, Hyde lost one of its true legends.

I don’t know many details of her passing. She had been sick for several months with heart, blocked artery, and other issues. In early December she entered the hospital where she was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Frances had apparently known for several months that she was ailing, had kept that fact largely to herself, and made a number of decisions last summer about her affairs including strict instructions regarding a Do Not Resuscitate order. She was taken off life support on Wednesday and died later that day amid family and friends.

Frances’ family plans to have a celebration of life ceremony sometime next June at Hyde. We’ll get the word out when we know more details. There are no plans for any formal observance before then.

Frances and Hyde… How to Explain?!?
If you had anything to do with Hyde for the first half of its existence, you don’t need my explanation. You have your own memories and your own stories to tell. After learning of her passing, I reached out to some 70s alums and asked for remembrances. Their comments uniformly reflected deep respect and admiration. A sampling:

“I have fond memories of Frances and think of her presence, her loving spirit, and her wit.” – Joanne Goubourn ‘75

“She was one of a kind. The world is a lesser place without her. Her laugh could light up a room along with her smile. She brought a little home to every student who ever knew her. I will miss her.” – Chris Richards ‘72

“Frances was iconic for those of us at Hyde in the 70s.” – Amy Faller Via ‘78

“She always gave her opinion no matter how contrarian, yet she was a team player at the end of the day. She loved her family, Hyde, and the City of Bath.” – Laurie Hurd ‘75

All those who knew Frances during her 40+ years at Hyde understand that she meant a great deal to the community.  For those who came on the Hyde scene more recently, well, I’ll begin at the beginning.

1966: The Beginning
Frances was the first — and for a while, the only — person on the Hyde payroll. Months before the first student enrolled, there were many days when Hyde School consisted solely of two people working together in a very large Georgian brick mansion. As you might have guessed, the other person was Joe Gauld.

The two of them joined forces in the winter of 1966 and worked together to somehow open the doors only a few months later to Hyde’s first cohort of students in the inaugural Summer Challenge Program. Frances did everything: typing, answering the phone, organizing admissions mailings, managing all things secretarial, and on and on.  But her major role was what I might describe as “herding cat.” (Note: Intentionally singular) That “cat” was none other than Hyde’s founder.

Theirs was a dynamic, productive, synergistic, and special relationship. As Jim Irving ’71 notes, “Frances was Joe’s right-hand person in those early days. And you couldn’t put anything past her. I know… I tried!”

On the one hand, she may well have been my father’s biggest supporter.  (A few years ago, we were talking about those early days and she said to me, “Absolutely nothing discouraged that man.”) On the other, she would often call him to task on a variety of fronts, always addressing him as “Mr. Gauld.” (During their half-century relationship she never once called him “Joe.”) My father tells this story about their working relationship:

We were working on a letter to somebody. I don’t remember who we were sending it to but I considered it to be a somewhat mundane task. When I got back the typed draft, I noticed a few mistakes. [Note: This was pre-word processor America.]  I said to Frances, “No need to re-type this. I’ll sign as is and we can get it out in the mail.” Frances replied, “Not if my name is listed below the signature.” She re-typed the letter… Simply put, she did things right.

As to his regard for Frances, I recall a comment my father made in the mid-80s during a time when Hyde was in the midst of a major restructuring process of both the administrative and governance functions. When we got around to deciding who would sit in what seat on the bus, he said simply, “Frances is with me. That’s non-negotiable.” That’s how they rolled.

She had many skills. For one, she could type faster than a Thompson machine gun. She also had an incredible memory for people, places, and things. And this memory was a source of awe and wonder to so many of us because her desk was typically covered with seemingly random and/or mismatched piles of papers and scattered stacks of files. Despite no discernible sense of order, she always knew precisely where everything was located and could find anything on the spot.

A Hyde Dynamic Duo – Frances Murray and Dot McKenna (1976)

Dot & Frances a few years ago:

So, she had the goods when it came to administrative support. However, Frances is remembered and respected by hundreds of Hyde people because of her contributions to that thing that makes Hyde Hyde: culture.  Duff Batchelder ’70, a student in that very first Summer Challenge Program, writes:

She shared the excitement of our triumphs and the depth of our despair with non-judgmental care, compassion, and that uniquely Mainer degree of quiet support and encouragement. With Frances, it was like having your favorite aunt in residence – totally supportive, always accessible, never a frown, never a bad word. She was a very special part of Hyde.

One of the reasons it has not been easy for me to write this piece is because it’s hard for me to separate the personal and the professional when I think about Frances.  Perhaps two stories illustrate this dichotomy.

  1. 1969. – I’m a Hyde sophomore. I’ve bounded down the Mansion stairs en route to the sign-in/out sheet at the Front Desk. (Can’t recall for sure where I was headed, but odds are I was bound for Hallett’s Drug Store and one of their signature cherry Cokes.) Frances, answering the phone at the Front Desk, stopped me in my tracks: “You seen your father today?” (Given her distinctive and authentic Maine accent, “your father” came out as “yaw fahthah.”) I answered, “No. Why?” Without looking up from her paperwork, she replied, “Because semester grades just came out and if you’re smart (“smaht”) you’ll steer clear of him for a while.” Point taken. From that point, we were allies.
  1. 1989. – I’m the headmaster of Hyde School. (What a difference two decades makes?!?) I’m working with Frances on a letter to which I had attached considerable importance. I recorded it on my dictation device and seemingly before I could turn around, she gave me back a typed draft. She also said, “Two of your dates are wrong, you spelled his son’s name wrong, and you use the word ‘frankly’ way too many times.” Thanking her for her prompt attention to the correspondence, I followed with, “OK, but what did you think of the letter overall?” Her response: “Oh, I don’t know, I never read those things.” Her ability to separate the trees from the forest, the errors from the message, was uncanny! During the years we worked together she continually surprised me with her broad range of capabilities.

Suffice it to say that Frances Murray holds a special place in all our hearts.  Craig Mael ’71 observes:

I was listening to a radio show today and the DJ was speaking of a new 1-hit singer who used only one name. The DJ said that the artist had no right to go by only one name until he has several hits. Well, at Hyde, Frances needed only one name and had countless hits. The place she holds in our Hyde experience is equal to that of Joe Gauld, Sumner Hawley, Bob Bertschy, and Ed Legg. For the past 50 years, she greeted each and every one of us as one of hers at every event we ever attended. Nothing was better than hearing her voice and seeing her smile when you walked back to campus, no matter how many years you had been away.

Thanks, Frances, for the difference you made in our lives at Hyde. Rest in peace.

Frances with another 40+ year Hyde icon, John Brawn.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld