Gerry Frank dies at 98, leaving behind long history of serving Oregon

SALEM, Ore. (KGW) — Gerry Frank, Vice President of Meier and Frank department stores, chief of staff for Senator Hatfield, author and native-Oregonian has passed away at 98.

Frank leaves a long legacy behind in Oregon.

Born in Portland in 1923, Frank went to school in the city, graduating from Lincoln High School before going on to pursue higher education at Stanford. Frank joined the Army in 1943 where he had an accoladed career, shipping off to France. In 1946, he received the EAME Campaign Medal, with two battle stars. He was then chosen to represent the United States as a GI at Cambridge University. He was later accepted as a civilian where he earned his bachelor’s and masters degrees in economics and politics.

Gerry returned to the United States and began working at Meier and Frank in Portland, a department store that had been in his family since 1857. In 1955, Frank was named the store manager of the Meier and Frank in Salem. Frank remained the vice president of Meier and Frank in Salem until it was sold in 1965.

“His story is such an American one,” said Kerry Tymchuk, the executive director of the Oregon Historical Society and friend of the late Frank. “World War II veteran. Then returned to work in the family business, then into public service.”

During the time he was vice president of the department store, Frank also served as the chairman of the Oregon Economic Development Commission under Oregon Governor, and friend, Mark Hatfield. This position lasted from 1959-1966 when Hatfield was elected to the US Senate.

When Hatfield became a Senator, he asked Frank to help organize his offices. Frank served as Hatfield’s chief of staff from 1973-1992. During that time, Frank traveled with the Senator around Oregon and became trusted with the community. So much so, he became known as “Oregon’s Third Senator.”

He was remembered by Gov. Kate Brown who tweeted a statement regarding his passing:

As did Senator Ron Wyden:

“Nobody loved Oregon, was as dedicated to Oregon, every corner of this state, then he was,” said Tymchuk. “One person can make a difference. He made a difference in so many ways for so many people, so many causes for so many communities just through sheer willpower, enthusiasm and perseverance.”

Frank was also a successful author. His travels to New York while he was in Washington D.C. as Hatfield’s chief of staff led him to write “Where to Find it, Buy it, Eat it in New York,” which is now on its 20th edition and has sold more than 1.2 million copies. He also write a guidebook to Oregon “Gerry Frank’s Oregon,” in 2012. Frank was a long-time columnist for the Oregonians and a correspondent and commentator on news stations in the state.

Though his expertise did not stop there. Frank was also an expert of sorts on chocolate cake, having judged the chocolate cake contest at the Oregon State Fair from 1959-2019. His love of sweets led him to open The Konditorei, a cake shop and restaurant in Salem. He was a co-owner of the space from 1982-2017.

Frank was passionate about being involved in and giving back to his community and served on a number of boards for charitable organizations around Oregon.

Providence Health released a statement stating it had lost a great friend in Frank. It said in an emailed statement:

Others will speak of his business and political wisdom or his travel expertise – but at Providence, for more than 50 years, Gerry Frank was a dedicated supporter and advisor. From building a new pavilion or chapel to providing guest housing, Gerry’s touch was evident in so many ways here. 

Gerry had a special concern for children, and because of that, Providence launched The Gerry Frank Center for Children’s Care at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center.  The center features a full range of family medical services, including children’s surgeries and procedures. The young patients receiving care there today might not know Gerry Frank personally, but when they look around at the bright rooms, the relaxing, comforting clouds on the ceiling, and hold their “Gerry bears” – they know that someone cared about them a lot.

That someone was Gerry Frank. 

He was celebrated in a number of ways for his contributions to the state including being the Grand Marshall of the Portland Rose parade, being named by Oregon Business and Industry as Statesman of the Year, being the first recipient of Willamette University’s Glenn Jackson Leadership Award, being designated as Honorary Superintendent of the Oregon State Police and being the first and only person to be proclaimed as “Oregon’s Premier Citizen.”

Oregon Legislature passed a resolution honoring Gerry for his “venerable civic, political, entrepreneurial, literary and culinary contributions to the people of Oregon and for service to community, state, and country,” in 2015.

Then, in 2019, the Gerry Frank Salem Rotary Amphitheater was dedicated to him for his service to Oregon.

“You can look in every corner of Oregon and if there was something good happening, Gerry was somehow involved,” said Tymchuk. “Oregon was the love of his life.”

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