Francis E Gilbert, V P

The Last Time I Saw Francis Gilbert


Several years after I left Sanford I chanced to be traveling on one of Chicago’s crowded expressways, and as is so often the case, the traffic was so heavy it came to a complete stop.  I was just one of hundreds of frustrated drivers, stretching to see ahead, hoping to see something encouraging when I heard a voice call my name.  I looked to my left, and there in the car beside me was Francis Gilbert. 


We both had our windows down.  Francis had to lean to his right to bring his face into view with mine.  I greeted him cheerfully.  He, however, being aware that we could be moving at any time, briefly acknowledged my greeting and then gave me the news.  “Bill”, he said, “Edna Mae has passed away”.


My mouth dropped.  My heart sunk.  Stunned, I searched for words, said something, and felt a horrible sick feeling in my stomach.  Gone was the steady, consistent smile on Francis’ face.  There was no customary wink of the eye to let me know everything was all right.  There was only a tired, lonely man, advanced in years, and wherever he was going, he didn’t seem to care. 


There are no preferred words in a situation like that.  But then, it doesn’t really matter what words you use.  Words are just sound.  I think Francis saw that I cared enough to feel his loss.  And then, while I sat there stunned, searching for better words, the traffic began to move.  Francis sat up and began moving also.  His lane veered to the left, mine to the right, and that was the last time I saw Francis Gilbert. 


It was just like the end of the story of Bambi.  The older stag, overcome with too many years to carry around with him any more, passed the mantle to the next generation, and then disappeared over the hill.  Francis drifted into retirement after that, and I went on to become a vice president in my own career.  I didn’t become vice president of Sanford as might have been expected had my career been a generation earlier.  I had to move, learn new technology, and use for a new employer the lessons I had learned from Francis Gilbert.  Times change. Things change.  The way we do things changes.  Standing still is never an option.  The only options we have is deciding what to take with us and what to leave behind.  I left Sanford behind, and took with me as many lessons as I could from a very professional mentor that I am thankful was an important part of my early adult years. 


This story does not end on a sad note.  I have heard it said that when a husband or a wife in a successful marriage loses a spouse, it is common for the survivor to marry again after about a year of grieving.  Sure enough, from one of the last updates I received from old Sanford friends I learned that Francis had married again, and moved with his new bride to San Francisco.  It seemed an unlikely place for a Conservative Christian to choose for retirement, but I am sure there are reasons for his decision.  And I am also sure San Francisco, like any other city would have, became just a little bit better place to live after he moved there.