Of all the places we could choose to be today, this place, for this occasion, would be last on the list. Frank died too soon. He wasn’t done yet. We weren’t done with him yet. We miss him. More than words can say.
In posts to the CNN alumni Facebook page the day after Frank died, one phrase predominated. Well over half the people posting called Frank a “good guy.” Others called him “patient,” “caring,” and “fun.” “He was a lovely human being,” one person said. The journalist in Frank likely would have commented—patiently—on the redundancy of so many “good guys”… but in this instance, we know better than Frank… because a single “good guy” won’t do. We all know Frank was a good guy…but with his passing, we also all needed to say it…because Frank wasn’t just a good guy. He was a good guy to us…to every person in this room.
For many of you at CNN, it was his leadership, especially on the overnights. Or his help in solving crises or getting the job done and getting it done well….and always doing so with a smile. One person said this: “CNN was a much better place because of Frank Hyland…I am a better person for having worked with him and calling him my friend.” The people at CNN know —from personal experience—that Frank was a good guy.
We know it here, too, at Pilgrimage. One person learned it while running in her first Peachtree Road Race. Frank ran along beside her encouraging her all the way. Another person remembered Frank’s helping out with office work…even planning worship services and printing bulletins. In the early days of Pilgrimage, the church likely wouldn’t have survived without Frank’s dedication. Frank served in many, many, many roles in this church—as President, Deacon, Sound Guy, writer, putter-together of pictorial directories, changer of the sign.
One person relates how much she appreciated Frank’s leadership of the pastoral search committee. “He treated everyone on that committee with respect and dignity,” the person said. As the committee’s final candidate, I can say he treated candidates that way, too. The “Hands that work for God” banner reminds us of how many of us experienced Frank’s “good guy-ness”— by all the things he did.
The Pride banner is displayed because Frank also revealed his “good guy-ness” in the stands he took, particularly his stand for inclusivenss. When I asked the congregation for stories about Frank, one person wrote this. “I cannot give a great deal of detail because this happened the week before we came to Pilgrimage. We had called [the church office] and spoken with the secretary. We were looking for a church that would take a stand against the Cobb County Family Values ordinance. [The secretary] told us the minister was on vacation; a layperson would be delivering the sermon. We decided to wait until the minister returned for our first visit.
“The speaker was Frank Hyland and his message was “legend” by the time we joined. It is my understanding that Frank challenged the church to not sit back and be silent on an issue that was tantamount to “gay bashing”. His message was a pivotal event in the journey upon which the church embarked that led to our declaration as an Open and Affirming church. In his own quiet, thoughtful way, Frank could challenge the rest of the church in a way that no one else could.”
Frank was a good guy because he lived his belief in the dignity of every human being.
The third banner is the one I most associate with our Pilgrimage community. The line “Let it begin with me” comes from the song we sing at the end of every worship service—“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Frank lived the words to our congregational song. He was a person of deep integrity.
One sign of that integrity is Frank’s long, strong friendship with his friend Mickey Sheridan. Mickey is the guy with whom Frank traveled cross-country. They rode their bikes—as in BI-cycles—from New York to California. When they hit the Pacific Ocean, they headed back east and got as far as Lincoln, Nebraska. In Lincoln, Frank got a job tending bar at a bowling alley.
One night, two sisters came in to bowl, one named Betty, the other named…Mary. The rest, as they say, is history. After graduating from THE University—that’s the University of Nebraska for those not in the know—Frank took a job with CNN…which brought him and Mary to Georgia…where they joined a church that had begun—where else?– in a bowling alley!
For health reasons, Mickey is unable to join us today, but he wrote this tribute that I’d like to share with you.
“The shortening days of autumn and the accompanying daily rush to twilight may serve as a metaphor for the loss of our beloved Frank; we are resigned to the winter of our sorrow and spring will never come to those of us who choose to contemplate that loss. But we can be consoled in the knowledge that Frank’s life could surely serve as a model for any human being that strives for hard work, dedication to family and friends, as well as personal sacrifice in service to those he loved; his uncommon kindness, splendid intelligence, and great good humor also will live on in our hearts and minds always…
“Happily Frank had the great good fortune to have Mary as his wife for over thirty years, and he was the fondest and proudest father of Tony, Teresa, and Mike. Then came the grandchildren; Teresa’s first-born, Aiden, who we learn will soon have a little brother. Next was Tony and wife Sabrina’s son Ryan. The newest will learn of their grandfather through photos and the cherished memories of their parents; Aiden will no doubt recall the happy times of his early childhood with Frank.
“Speaking personally, in over 43 years of having the privilege of Frank’s company, there was never a harsh word between us; surely a remarkable feat and a testament to our friendship, a friendship that will endure and that death could never erase. May he rest in peace and may Mary, Tony, Teresa, Mike and all the family find comfort and peace in knowing how much he was loved and respected by all he met, and may Tony and Mike always be safe in their service to this country. In the final analysis it comes to this—we were all the better for having known him.” Indeed. We are all better for having known Frank.
We haven’t seen a lot of Frank the past few years here at church. He stopped regularly attending Pilgrimage and started going on pilgrimages…on his Harley.
Those who knew Frank know how much he loved to ride. It’s easy when something like this accident happens to slip into second-guessing. In this instance—don’t. When he died, Frank was doing something he loved—with the woman he loved like life itself. This accident has taken Frank from us. It took him too soon. The grief of that loss is real; recovering from it will be hard. But all of us can take comfort in the fact that at the end, Frank was doing what he loved.
We also can take comfort in knowing Frank was not alone when he died. A man who saw the accident happen immediately ran to Frank and was with him when he died. You all have told me that God sent John-Eric and Allison to Frank and Mary Saturday before last. Here’s what I want to say: God didn’t finish working the day of the accident. God will continue to send people into your lives to help you as you grieve… because grief is not something we do on our own. We need each other in times of loss. And just as God became present through John-Eric and Allison, so will God become present–again and again and again–in the people who will come to you all, Mary, Tony, Teresa, and Mike. The Psalmist reminds us: “God is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Ps. 34:18) One of the ways God draws near to us when our hearts are broken is in the presence of other people.
God also speaks to us in the words of others. Printed in your bulletin is a quote by one well-acquainted with grief. Perhaps his words will help you in your own grieving process.
Do not hurry as you walk with grief, it does not help the journey.
Walk slowly, pausing often: do not hurry as you walk with grief.
Be not disturbed by memories that come unbidden.
Swiftly forgive, and let Christ speak for you unspoken words.
Unfinished conversation will be resolved in Him.
Be not disturbed.
Be gentle with the one who walks with grief.
If it is you, be gentle with yourself.
Swiftly forgive, walk slowly, pausing often.
Take time; be gentle as you walk with grief.
Mary, Tony, Teresa, Mike, be gentle with yourselves as you walk with this grief of losing Frank…because once you’ve gotten through it, once you’ve healed, you’ll be free to live joyfully again…and that joyful living will be “a really good” tribute to the “really good guy” we knew and loved so well, Frank Hyland.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and who is near to us…always.