Legal community mourns loss of a special dynamo

 By Tom Kirvan

Legal News
 
He faced a challenge that few in Oakland County would relish: Following in the footsteps of Fran Anderson.
 
It was a daunting task, to be sure, but attorney Gerald Fisher knew better than to expect the impossible. Instead, as the successor to Anderson as the new president of the Oakland County Bar Foundation, Fisher preferred to learn a few lessons from his esteemed predecessor.
 
It was 2008, a few months before Fisher would become OCBF president, 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.”
 
“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 said. “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 recalled. “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 the many associated with the OCBA and OCBF.  The day just seemed to get brighter!” 
 
Conversely, the world dimmed on Sunday, Sept. 22 when Anderson died at age 86, six weeks after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her loss will be felt heavily by those she blessed with friendship, according to attorney Tom Cranmer, a past president of the State Bar of Michigan.
 
"Fran was the epitome of positive energy,” said Cranmer, a trustee on the OCBF when Anderson was president. “She was a tireless community volunteer who never said ‘no’ to a worthy cause. On a personal note, she was one of the kindest people I ever met. Her ready smile and upbeat attitude are two of her many qualities that I will miss greatly."
Joe Papelian, who preceded Anderson as president of the OCBF, echoed the remarks.
 
“What a big loss for the community,” said Papelian, assistant general counsel for Delphi. “Fran was a friend with great passion. She was a strong advocate of the noble principles of the OCBF on which she served for many years. Her enthusiasm and commitment were contagious. Her limitless energy inspired others to do good – and to do it well.”
For all of her community and charitable involvement, Anderson seemingly was made of presidential timber. 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” assignments 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 last spring, got an early taste of Anderson’s zest for life.
 
“It was some 30 years ago when I first met Fran,” recalled Cunningham, immediate 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.”
During an interview with The Legal News in 2007, Anderson said her desire to “do good” in the community was a byproduct of her religious upbringing. A native of Indiana, the daughter of the Rev. and Mrs. Matthew Worthman headed north to the Great Lakes State to attend the University of Michigan, earning a bachelor of arts degree in speech in 1948. For six years, she taught speech, drama, and English in the Pontiac school system. She was 26 years old when she married a 28-year-old attorney, Robert Anderson. After spending 20 years in private practice, he would become a longtime Oakland County judge before succumbing to cancer in 1998.
 
“He knew how to balance his professional life with his family responsibilities,” Mrs. Anderson said in 2007 of her late husband. “He would leave his judicial duties at the courthouse door. Our friends always thought that I knew all the details of the case he was hearing, when, in fact, I never heard him speak a word about them.”
 
As marriage partners, she and her husband shared a strong commitment to their Christian faith, helping with a variety of church duties that ranged from teaching Sunday school classes to supporting mission work at home and abroad. In recent years, she regularly hosted missionaries from overseas and took periodic trips abroad to help with church-related activities.
 
Yet, her reach extended far beyond the ministry, touching the worlds of education, the law, music, and health care. Her resume included leadership roles with state and local parent-teacher associations, state and national legal auxiliaries, the Pontiac Oakland Symphony Orchestra, the Michigan Public Education Task Force, the Oakland County Community Corrections Advisory Board, and the North Oakland Medical Centers Foundation, among others.
 
In short, she was ever busy, so much so that her schedule could make heads spin.
 
“I never ceased to be amazed at how much Fran could pack into a day, a week, a month,” said Lisa Stadig Elliot, executive director of the OCBA. “She seemingly had boundless energy. When she got involved in a project, she always gave it her best and her enthusiasm spread throughout.”
 
Monday night, at the Iroquois Club, the OCBA held its annual Sustaining Member reception, an event that drew upward of 150 attendees, according to Stadig Elliot. Fond memories of Anderson were everywhere to be found.
 
“She would have been so pleased to have heard the positive impact she made on so many of the people in attendance,” Stadig Elliot said. “Virtually everyone had a ‘Fran’ story to share.”
 
Including Stadig Elliot.
 
“I can just imagine her expressing thanks for all that, with that characteristic way she waved her hands above her head and saying, ‘All you wonderful people.’ Wouldn’t we all love to hear that from her one more time.”
 
Anderson’s son, Russell, would, for sure. He and his siblings took turns providing round-the-clock care for their mother over her final weeks.
 
“After a very difficult six weeks, she is at peace, and we as a family are thankful for that,” Russell Anderson said.
 
Even though his mother was hospitalized last week in extreme pain, she remained determined to celebrate her daughter-in-law Kristi’s birthday September 19, hoping to be well enough to bake a cake for the occasion. It didn’t happen quite as his mom envisioned, but that was of little consequence in the greater picture of her life, said Anderson. 
 
“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.”
 

Comments

  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »