Sunday, January 29, 2012

Uncle Frank

        A couple of years ago in  Holding Out For a Hero  I wrote about what it took to be a hero.  At that time,  I referenced Frank Schiavo as the real deal - a man who lived a life of integrity, humility, warmth, and passion.  This past week,  S. Stauss over at Periphery posted The Salad Days  In this wonderful piece she, without even knowing Frank, spoke of all the things that were his life.  The ironical thing is that she posted this on the 2nd anniversary of Frank's death.  Frank meant a great deal to me and was pivotal in my life.  His death came unexpectedly and way too soon.  I am missing him as much as ever this week.  Let me introduce you to Franko

     Frank Schiavo was born and raised in the Valley of the Heart's Delight.  This was how Silicon Valley (aka Santa Clara County, CA) was known in the 30's, 40's, and 50's.  This pocket of heaven is about 50 miles south of San Francisco and was blessed with ideal weather, perfect growing conditions for nature's bounty, and beautiful rolling hills and vistas.  Truly, it was the Valley of the Heart's Delight.  Eventually, the fruit and nut trees gave way to housing in the post World War II boon.  Agriculture was replaced with technology as the go to industry in the region and the name lost out to Silicon Valley as its regional moniker.

       By the late 1960's  Frank was teaching high school science in this community.  His core knowledge was in physics and chemistry and but his passion was in environmental sciences.  Frank didn't just teach this stuff though.  He lived it.  He was actually dubbed the "messiah of the environment" for being green before it was cool.  He taught at the high school level for 13 years and for 28 years at San Jose State in the Environmental Studies Department.  He readily admitted that the most rewarding part of his teaching experience was teaching over 1500 San Jose State students to become K - 8 environmental educators for the public school system.

     I was one of those 1500 college kids who came through his environmental ed for teachers classes back in the mid 70's.  Frank was the quintessential teacher.  He was smart and articulate and could bring the subject area to life in his classroom.  Beyond that, Frank was an inspirational human being.  He was full of warmth, kindness, and radiated humor and good will.  He had a unique personality - self deprecating and funny, scholarly and always a gentleman.    In his personal life, Frank lived the way he taught. He grew his own food, he designed and created a model solar house, and he took public transportation (or, for some outings, his restored propane powered 1964 Chevy Nova).  He always carried his hankie for a napkin, his own containers for bulk item purchase at the "health food stores" of the day or to carry home leftovers from lunches or dinners out.  He never used a clothes dryer.  He had both indoor and outdoor clothes lines placed in the most efficient area to dry his laundry. He composted in his front yard, washed dishes by hand, took short showers (his average PG&E bill was $11), and prided himself on not creating any garbage.  He made headlines in 1994 when he spared with the San Jose City Council after the city ruled that he had to pay a monthly garbage bill even though his house didn't generate any trash.  This man reduced, reused, recycled  everything.

       Frank cared very much about his friends but he was single most of his life.  I think that is largely because his passion about the environment was his life.  Most people want to be number one on their lover's life list.  Frank's sweetheart would always have had to settle for being number two.  Frank and I, however, enjoyed a wonderful sweetheart relationship in the late 70's.  He made me laugh and think and he told me I was beautiful.  We listened to Jackson Browne in the park and took lovely walks in the wilderness.  But I wasn't finished with adventures and he wanted to focus on his corner of the world so I went off to South America and he went back to SJSU.

     Two years later, Frank and I ran into each other in a local hippy dining spot.  It so happened that Frank was meeting his long time environmental educator friend, Mike, for dinner.  I was acquainted with Mike but hadn't seen him in a couple of years.  Frank and Mike and I started hanging out again.  One thing led to another and Mike and I were married about a year later.  The magic of Frank was present!  Frank was always about hooking his friends up and that's exactly what he did that night.  Of course, he was an honored guest at our very small wedding and, for years, he was an honored guest in our home.  Our children knew him as Uncle Frank and they loved him in the way that children naturally love good people.

    Frank died of a sudden heart attack.  I think he just cared too much about the Earth, about his friends, about the future. He certainly practiced what he preached and his was the epitome of a truly simple life.  Not many people will be able to follow the minimalist lifestyle he followed but we can learn from his example.  His life showed that such a life is possible.

      I loved Frank very much. As a physicist, Frank knew that energy is never created or destroyed.  It is only transformed from one state to another.  His body has returned to the earth and his spirit and legacy live on.  Thank you, Frank.


  1. A terrific tribute to Uncle Frank. He certainly left his mark and he obviously made a difference with his much too short life.

    I wonder if I could live as simply and as conscious of the preciousness of our environment as he did. Perhaps I could start by cutting back on my long and luxurious hot showers.

    1. And, you know, that was the thing about Frank. He did not TELL you how to live your life. He never made you feel bad it you didn't live up to his standards. He was about doing what you could do. He was witness to what could be and he celebrated all steps in that direction.

  2. I just love this. Beautifully written and inspiring. Thank you. And thank you for the mention. My silliness does not compare to such a life lived with passion.

  3. Whoa! Don't even think of knocking your efforts to make a dent in the care of the earth - every little bit counts and Frank would have loved you for it! He would have made you a tasty spaghetti dinner, served with fresh greens from his garden and plenty of homegrown basil.

  4. What a wonderful tribute to your dear friend. Some of his energy lives on in your heart and you have shared it with us. Thank you.

  5. The Valley of the Heart's Delight. Thank you for sharing a little about your friend's life. There are good people in the world, and it never hurts to keep reminding ourselves of that.