When someone you know dies unexpectedly and too young, you tend to make them larger than life, maybe to hold on to the best things about them.
But with Stacy Frank, there was no need. Stacy spoke for herself.
If you knew her you felt one way or the other about her — no gray area. She was a political wonk who took wonking up a notch, a fierce Democrat on the phone to friends mornings after absorbing her newspapers and cable news. She fished and boated and loved everything about Florida, except the politics and politicians who seem determined to hurt it.
Long before I met her I knew of her mother, Pat Frank, an icon in state and local politics and Hillsborough's current clerk of the courts. And I was a little afraid of her father, Dick Frank, a judge I covered when I was a new reporter. Stacy herself was a force, a petite woman in big gold earrings shaped like starfish, a lawyer who started her own cell tower business, a strong supporter of causes and candidates, and a friend to a whole lot of people.
By last September, she did not feel right — something respiratory. At first they thought bronchitis, then asthma. Three days after Christmas she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Except Stacy didn't smoke.
When people get very sick, we always say they fought, they were courageous, but she did and she was. On a voicemail message from last month, she is telling me that someone who had just done something politically dastardly was lucky she wasn't up to full speed, or she would, and I quote, go box their ears. She died weeks later, six months after she was diagnosed. She was 61.
Here is what Stacy Frank would want me to tell you:
That, according to a spokesman for the Moffitt Cancer Center, non-smokers are a growing percentage of lung cancer cases —15 to 20 percent and women in particular. That while high-risk current and former smokers can have early detection through low-dose CT scans, diagnosis is more difficult in people without a smoking history. That this means when diagnosis does come, for many it's already late stage. And that research is needed for early detection and "better outcomes" for people who did not smoke but got lung cancer anyway. Her family started a Stacy Frank Fund at Moffitt for donations for this.
Tonight her friends — and they are legion — her family, her allies, and those who just liked her will gather at the Tampa Museum of Art. No doubt there will be much telling of Stacy stories, of the seemingly contradictory things that made the whole of her: How she loved gathering people at her house at the beach but disliked actual sand. How she read the New York Times cover to cover, but always had the latest trashy tabloids on hand and loved a good Law & Order binge. How she was seen by some as fearsome, but took generosity to a new level for her people and her causes. How, at a recent gathering, a remarkable number of people said they thought they were her best friend, though in truth that was always Ladybird, her dog.
This week, campaign signs started sprouting around town like weeds. I actually reached for the phone to call her and ask which ones she thought worked and which were epic fails. I knew Stacy would have an opinion. Ditto Melania Trump's remarkably similar speech this week. Stacy would be burning up the phone lines.
When someone as alive as her is gone, you can't think it was for nothing. Stacy Frank would want you to know what she didn't, about a deadly smoker's disease that hits non-smokers, too. She would want something positive out of all the sadness. It's just how she lived, pushing to make it better.
Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]