Monday, January 13, 2014


(Written on Sunday, January 12, 2014)

This afternoon, as friends and family gather in Boone to honor Uncle Frank, the corgis and I will take to the field in the direction of the woods, with binoculars in hand and eyes and ears at full alert in  search of our feathered friends.  If Uncle Frank were here to visit, he'd be right there with us, for he never missed the opportunity to be outdoors on the land, whether that be on his beloved acreage out on Roaring Fork (near Boone) or over at Big Pine (his home place in Madison County near Asheville, NC). 

Uncle Frank Randall passed away shortly after midnight last Thursday.  We all knew he was in his final days, and at Christmas, Samuel, Eliza and I had a special last visit with him at Glenbridge Assisted Living Center in Boone. We were well aware that time would be our last with him, for Uncle Frank understood what happening on many levels, and like the consummate scientist he was, could recognize the signs himself.

Although Uncle Frank, his beloved wife, Aunt Lera, and son, Richard moved to Boone when Richard and I were in first grade, I can't remember my life without them. Our families, along with Robert and Lib Randall and their children, were as close as blood relatives, and to this day, Eliza and Samuel include the Randalls any time they list their relatives. Before the expression was coined, Uncle Frank, Aunt Lera, Mom and Dad, Aunt Lib and Uncle Robert understood the notion of the village raising the children, and we children didn't give a second thought to obeying whatever directive came from whatever parent. Our families lived side by side, vacationed together, gardened together, shared holidays together and loved together. And, the subsequent generation, my children and Betsy's, have the blessed advantage of experiencing that same level of familial interaction. Seeing Uncle Frank and Aunt Lera in Boone when they are there is as routine as being with Petie, their grandmother.

Richard wrote this wonderful tribute to Uncle Frank in preparation for the inevitable. What an incredible man Uncle Frank was - a man with the courage to follow his convictions as a conscientious objector at a time when our country was involved in WW II. The text is a bit lengthy, but I want to post it in its entirety for the sake of having it preserved on my blog:

Dr. J. Frank Randall, 95, a long time member of the Boone, NC, community and retired Professor of Biology at Appalachian State University, died on January 10, 2014 at Watauga Medical Center.

Born in 1918 at the family farm on Big Pine Creek, Madison County, NC, Dr. Randall was the fifth child of John Wesley Randall, Jr., and Lou Ella Randall. Like so many in the Randall family, he pursued a career in teaching and education, receiving an A.A. from Brevard College, an A.B. from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an M.S. from The University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in Biology from The University of South Carolina. Before joining the faculty of what was Appalachian State Teachers College in 1957, Dr. Randall taught for two years at Oakwood Friends School in Poughkeepsie, NY, for seven years in the public secondary schools of North Carolina, and for three years at the then newly-established Alpena (MI) Community College.

Dr. Randall’s enthusiasm for teaching was evident in his early morning ornithology classes. He readily shared his avid interest in birds and their environment and nurtured this same appreciation and love of nature in his students. He had a breadth of interest that led him to help develop a series of Biology Department classes ranging from ecology and biogeography to mammalogy, ichthyology, vertebrate zoology, evolution, and endangered species. He was a proponent of the idea that understanding the natural world around us is an important part of an education. In that vein he created a special biology course for home economics majors and constantly shared his love of field biology formally and informally with students, family, and friends. His two academic trips with students to Alaska (1974 and 1977, respectively) and three trips (1979, 1982, and 1985) to South America to the Galapagos Islands and portions of mainland Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, including Machu Picchu, were cherished experiences and robust learning exercises for the participants.

He took pride in, and his students benefited from, his multidisciplinary knowledge. He delighted and surprised many students from small communities with his detailed knowledge of their communities, some of which was acquired during his comprehensive survey of fish in the Catawba-Wateree river basin. Focused on more than just their academic success in a particular class, he conveyed to his students the importance of development of the whole person by challenging them to think deeply about ethics, politics, and human impact on the Earth.

He was keenly aware of his responsibilities as an educator and teacher and played a major role in establishing the Appalachian Faculty Senate, serving as its first chairman. In addition to his professional responsibilities, Dr. Randall was active in the Audubon Society, North Carolina Nature Conservancy, Bluff Mountain Stewardship Committee (where he conducted hiking tours), and the Nongame Wildlife Advisory Committee for North Carolina. He was active with Boy Scouts, serving as a Scoutmaster and as an Explorer Post Advisor.

His lifelong commitment to conservation and preservation was fostered by appreciation for plants, animals, and ecosystems that he absorbed from his father during childhood in the rural NC mountains and by the love of geography and education inspired by his mother. These characteristics were expanded and reinforced when, as a young man, he hitchhiked throughout much of the western US.

Dr. Randall was a kind, gentle, patient, and non-violent person and a conscientious objector during the second world war—an unpopular but genuine belief for which he had to mount legal challenges to state and federal agencies to defend. He served through the American Friends Service Committee and other organizations, performing conservation work in California and Oregon, as well as helping migrant workers and American citizens of Japanese heritage who were relocated to internment camps by the federal government. As part of his alternate civilian service, he volunteered to become a 'smoke jumper' for fighting forest fires in west; although, that program was canceled before he was deployed.

Since his retirement in 1990, Dr. Randall spent much of his time adding to, enjoying, and working on his Roaring Fork nature preserve in the Meat Camp section of Watauga County. He shared his love and enthusiasm for this favorite spot with friends, relatives, scouts, students, and beloved canines, Snowzey and Baxter.

Dr. Randall was one of a close family of eight children. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by all of his siblings and their spouses: brothers Herman, Paul (Evelyn), Robert (Elizabeth), Fred (Myrtle), and sisters Virginia Roberts (Gordon), Maye Hill (Jim), Nina Roberts (Sam), as well as niece Carolyn Roberts Woodrow and nephew Robert L. Randall, Jr.

Surviving Dr. Randall are his wife of 63 years, Lera Britt Randall, formerly of Chadbourn, NC, and son, Richard R. Randall, of Durham, NC. He is also survived by dozens of nieces and nephews and their children, whose friendship and love he cherished.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions to The Nature Conservancy, American Friends Service Committee, Southern Environmental Law Center, National Audubon Society, institutions of higher education, UNC-TV, or other non-profit, charitable organizations of the donor's preference.

The family welcomes favorite recollections from students and friends wishing to share them at Visitation will be 3:00-5:00 p.m. Sunday, January 12, 2014, at Austin and Barnes Funeral Home (828.264.8888, in Boone. A memorial service, to be scheduled, will be held in the Spring


I keep hearing the words of the woman who conducted my friend Brian Dendle's memorial service, reminding those of us assembled that Brian was not gone from our lives but rather as present as ever, only in a different form and way of understanding.  I've found her words to be very true, for I sense and feel Brian today as much as I did when he was incarnate here on the Earth. 
So it will be with Uncle Frank.  He lives in me and my children, and he is alive in the world around us.  I know about  birds because of him; my ability to question and rationalize is much more keen as a result of knowing him, and my love of the Earth is heightened by living around him.  His legacy continues in me and in my children, along with the many other students and friends he touched.  His was, indeed, a life well lived!

1 comment:

Beth Layton said...

Beautiful, Tanya! How lucky we all are to have known him; I only wish I had known him better!