The Passing of a Friend-
It is with great sadness I am writing this about a good friend we all just lost and one of the most important bottle collectors in our hobby, Robert Frank. Just 66, I first met Robert over 30 years ago, we somehow hit it off and we spent a lot of time wheeling and dealing together, buying collections or whatever suited his or my fancy, always delighting in a new acquisition and learning more by the minute. He loved the fact that I started an auction because he said he was always left out of the “under the table deals,” that often-permeated bottle shows. I found out later that Robert had collected stamps as a boy and with his mother accumulated a fine collection, finding this out only after I had put my own collection together. I told my wife on Sunday that I was thinking about going down to see him this week, I wanted to show him my stamps but that it had to be just a quick visit as the auction is going on and I needed to get back. Alas I may have met him just briefly as he just passed Monday from what I have been told. His death was attributed to a brain aneurysm, a rare event that occurs around 20,000 times a year across this country. It’s a pooling of blood in one’s veins along the side of the brain. They don’t always burst; they aren’t always lethal but for Robert it was his last day on earth.
With all the death and despair we’ve seen in the last year, this one hits particularly hard. People tend to leave us at the most inopportune time. “I can’t believe it,” is what everyone says. Robert, by no fault of his own became wealthy at an early age. His father invented a “thing,” that every computer needed and gave his kids a lot of shares that at the time were not worth a lot. By the time Robert was in his 30’s he was already a millionaire. Living in Salem near his mother and fending for himself in the woods, the idea of money to him was as foreign as speaking Chinese and since he wasn’t quite aware of what his shares of stocks his father left meant, he hung onto them until he found out they were enough to let him do whatever he wanted, forever. After his dad died probably 10 years ago, he inherited another ghastly amount of money and it never seemed to sit right with him. He told me when you can afford anything you want it takes the fun out of it. The one thing that money did was allow him to collect the things he did. At first he seemed more than amused at the idea. But fancy cars, a big house, none of that appealed to him. Years ago, he told me how he drove over to his local Ford dealer to buy two cars, one for him and one for his wife. The salesman who after a first glance at this T-shirt and cargo pant wearing character would dismiss him as he walked in, always shaking their heads as he left, finding out that he just bought two brand new Ford SUV’s, cash.
Robert collected a lot of interesting things besides bottles. He had a vast knowledge of rocks and minerals, a world class insulator collection, marbles, aforementioned stamps, barb wire and really anything old. His meager house couldn’t fit his collection, so he bought a couple large storage containers and turned them into museums. Baskets, dinosaur bones, a black light room to show his rocks that glowed in the dark. He was fascinated with everything and his collection was as big as his heart. Robert with his girlfriend Paula, would spend their evenings dumpster diving or going to the Indian casino. When he told me about a particularly neat find with his metal detector it seemed to mean more to him than anything he could buy. He had personal financial advisors biting their fingernails knowing Robert could buy a six-figure bottle, rock or bone at any minute. It seemed that when he inherited his second windfall, he almost gave up buying the best items but would rather go after a scarce clear pumpkinseed or common clear drugstore bottles. For a guy that could buy whatever he wanted he just didn’t care. I would tell him he could assemble a world class stamp album or put together a collection of things people would die for. No, his heart wasn’t in it and he would say that he already had enough stuff, “what would I do with more?” he would say.
His son Tyler is one of just a couple relatives he talks with or has left. That’s one of the things we had originally found in common, we were both the same age with sons named Tyler who were also the same ages. We were collectors and had a kinship in different regards. People don’t know it, but Robert was a shy, inward type person and had a warm, caring and friendly personality he rarely got to share. He drank alcohol to calm himself down and although some regarded him as a heavy drinker, he was just trying to slow down to everyone else’s level. It was like he was going 100 miles an hour while everyone else was going 10 mph. He flirted with sobriety and of late was drinking a lot less and enjoying life more. He was taking it all in. The goodness in Robert was unequaled and his random acts of kindness were often and without a thought about himself. He wouldn’t let you leave his house without giving you a gift. He showed kindness one of the only ways he could, by giving you something from his vast collection, always dismissing a thank you or gratitude, that was his thing.
I will miss Robert today, tomorrow, whenever I think of someone who despite having seemed to win the lottery, realized it was not for him and suffered from a feeling of having too much and sometimes dreading it instead of thriving from it. Robert was one of the smartest people I ever knew. We would talk for hours some nights and despite the enormity of the different subjects we would discuss, I was always astonished to hear him remind me the next day of all the tiny forgettable things that were said the night before. He had to have some kind of photographic memory, if not just for the encyclopedic categorizing of all the things he had accumulated over the years. Sometimes really smart people have trouble with social settings, they just can’t slow down long enough to see the world around them like everyone else. I can’t help but wonder if Robert knew what a great person he truly was he may have stopped and smelled the roses just a little more, he would have shown his love just a little more and may have given himself a minute to just take in the fresh air and the natural wonders of life we often take for granted. Robert is finally at peace, a turbulent mind is now being laid to rest. He will now finally find what others get to experience everyday despite not having the fortune he cared so little about. Bless you Robert, we’ll see you around.