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The Legacy of John Franklin

July 29, 2010

In 1993, my last child was born, and that year I lost a friend and mentor, former Anchorage Fire Chief John Franklin. John served as the Public Safety Commissioner for the Municipality of Anchorage while I was serving as a special assistant to the mayor. He was a remarkable well-loved man with a wide range of passionate interests, and he truly cared about people. I was reminded of John as I started to dig in to Dr. Gabor Mate’s book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. John would sit on a bench in downtown Anchorage at what is now known as Peratrovich Park located on Fourth Avenue. Part of my legacy growing up is that I know about Skid Row and 1st Avenue in Seattle, South Franklin Street in Juneau, Fourth Avenue in Anchorage, and 2 Street in Fairbanks. There are many such other streets around this country, streets that sell cheap booze and attract lots of characters. My mother worked on 1st Avenue in bars for a while when I was growing up. Her friends from Alaska would meet there at a variety of places whose names I have now forgotten. People come to Fourth Avenue for many of the same reason they went to 1st Avenue.

John would sit on his bench on Fourth Avenue for a reason. He knew many of the people who frequented the street, and for some reason that was only hinted at to me, he had empathy for them. He treated them like they were fellow human beings. Dr. Mate works as a physician for the street people of Vancouver, BC. His description of the people he serves require the same thing John gave to the street people he knew—to be acknowledged as a human being. Dr. Mate made this observation about his patients:

“When my addict patients look at me, they are seeking the real me. Like children, they are unimpressed with titles, achievements, worldly credentials. Their concerns are too immediate, too urgent. If they come to like me or to appreciate my work with them, they will spontaneously express pride in having a doctor who is occasionally interviewed on television and is an author. But only then. What they care about is my presence or absence as a human being. They gauge with unerring eyes whether I am grounded enough on any given day to coexist with them, to listen to them as persons with feelings, hopes and aspirations that are as valid as mine. They can tell instantly whether I am genuinely committed to their well-being or just trying to get them out of my way.”

John Franklin was present as a human being. He was what I aspire to be. Caring, compassionate and willing to accept someone for who they are.

Dr. Mate quotes one of his co-workers: “As a nurse, I thought I had some experience to share. While that was true, I soon discovered that, in fact, I had very little to give—I could not rescue people from their pain and sadness. All I could offer was to walk beside them as a fellow human being, a kindred spirit.”

That, in my mind, is the legacy John Franklin left to me.

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