Two years later, thoughts turn to a 'special dynamo'

Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

When word broke in September of 2013 that a treasured friend had died, just weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, it was difficult to digest the news, even though she was approaching her 87th birthday and had enjoyed a long and fruitful life.

Age, after all, was not an accurate way to measure the impact of the former high school teacher on all those blessed to know her. In fact, I was convinced that age would never be a barrier to her twin forces of zest and zeal. She seemingly had secured the formula for the fountain of youth and that became clearly evident minutes after I first met Fran Anderson in the spring of 2007.

Joe Papelian, then president of the Oakland County Bar Foundation, introduced us at a fund-raising event for the OCBF, suggesting that I write a feature on all the good works she had done for the legal community and beyond. Perhaps a book would have been more appropriate and would have served to further inspire a legion of admirers, which included her dear friend, Suzanne Favale, publisher of The Legal News.

Attorney Gerald Fisher, a property law expert and a professor at Cooley Law School, was among Anderson's biggest fans, even though at one point he had the daunting task of "following in her footsteps" as the president of the OCBF. He was fond of telling a "life lesson" he learned from Anderson just months before succeeding her as head of the Bar Foundation.

It was 2008 and a group of "30 or 40 people had assembled in the corridor of the Circuit Courthouse" for the formal dedication of the OCBF "Fellows Plaque," according to Fisher.

"Many of those assembled for this event had the expectation that the president of the foundation would say a few brief, but formalistic words reflecting on the occasion," Fisher recalled. "It would soon become evident to those harboring this expectation that they had entered the uncommon zone of Fran Anderson.

"She confidently stepped forward, looked around at those assembled, and smiled," Fisher related. "A storm of inspiration and enthusiasm then began: she identified and made specific positive observations about individuals present who had performed good deeds; she discussed the accomplishments of those whose contributions had not yet become apparent to others but were perfectly obvious to her; and she lectured on the service that all of us have the responsibility to carry out as part of our daily lots. Regardless of the baggage that had been carried to the event, each person present on this occasion became fully engulfed by positive feelings about themselves and about the good work performed by many associated with the OCBA and the OCBF. The day just seemed to get brighter."

Conversely, the world dimmed on September 22, 2013, when Anderson died at age 86, six weeks after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was just two weeks before that fateful day that I last spoke with Anderson when she called to say thanks for sending along the latest edition of our magazine, heaping praise on all who had a hand in publishing the quarterly product. While her words were welcomed, the sound of her voice was not. It told an altogether different story, one that would soon short-circuit her life.

The call, as it turned out, had a dual purpose, principally to inform us that she was ill and about to embark on a cancer treatment regimen that was not for the faint of heart. In respect to her wishes, we promised to keep her in our thoughts and prayers, agreeing that she would decide when it was time to talk again.

Regrettably, the opportunity to talk again never materialized, leaving us longing for the chance to see that ready smile and to experience that upbeat attitude once again.

For all of her community and charitable involvement, Anderson seemingly was made of presidential timbre. When she became head of the OCBF board in the summer of 2007, it was the 14th time she had been named president of an organization during her stellar career of community service.

Couple that with 16 "chairman" assignment with various charitable and educational organizations and you begin to understand her compassion for and commitment to others.

Judy Cunningham, longtime corporation counsel for Oakland County before retiring several years ago, got an early taste of Anderson's zest for life.

"It was some 30 years ago when I first met Fran," recalled Cunningham, a past president of the Oakland County Bar Association. "She was the president of the local United Way and she was speaking about the importance of giving to that year's campaign. She literally brought down the house with her energy and passion. She was such a special dynamo that I thought, 'Wow, I've got to get to know this woman.'

"Fortunately I did come to know her and to love everything about her," Cunningham said. "She was the ultimate role model on how to live your life."

Anderson's son, Russell, can attest to that fact.

"Mom went at everything at 180 miles per hour," said Anderson, an attorney in Waterford. "When she walked into a room, you just knew there was something special happening. Fran Anderson could light up a community that had no electricity. What a great legacy that is to leave."

But perhaps there is more, he surmised in an e-mail a few days after his mom's death.

"Mom will truly be missed, but her legacy will carry on forever," Anderson wrote. "I am certain that she has already introduced Moses to Jesus and the like."

Published: Mon, Sep 21, 2015