A Writer’s Goodbye: Frank O’Brien Andrew

Frank Andrew Now that I’m here, I’m lost for words. As I mentioned before, I never met Frank in person. But when I needed knowledgeable people to offer criticism on LAST GIRL DANCING, Frank gave me an in-depth view of Atlanta that changed significantly the direction the story took. When I needed someone to look over the shipbuilding I’d done for HAWKSPAR, Frank put a great deal of time and effort into helping me get details right.

There are people you’re sure you’ll meet in person one day, and Frank was one of those. I thought we would discuss writing, that I would read Virgin of New Orleans, that we might find ourselves sharing an agent, because my agent had been interested in his work. I’d promised to send him a signed copy of TALYN when I finally got my author’s copies; I still haven’t received them, which is why he didn’t have one. I’d hoped to have him read and offer commentary on the ship stuff in HAWKSPAR that he so greatly influenced, to see if I’d managed not to screw up what he told me; now that won’t happen.

I feel worst about that, because there are so many parts of the book that would not have existed without the comments he offered, and one character, a shipwright, whom I shaped from knowing Frank.

“If you’re sure you must buy ready-built, you haven’t much selection,” the shipwright said. His name was Makkor Gurak-Golak-Dok-Hkukguh, or, as he translated for Aaran with evident pride, Makkor Only-Hkukguh-Builds-A-Better-Boat. Hkukguh being his people’s god of the sea. Makkor’s calluses had calluses, he told Aaran and Tuua, because his hands built ships even in their sleep. And his muscles had muscles because he had been building them since his father first brought him to work in his shipyard when he was merely four years old.

Makkor belived in Aaran and his mission, and so gave Aaran a great deal on a ship. In doing so–in exhibiting that faith and taking that risk–Makkor changed the world, simply because he believed.

That ship that changed the world in this novel was the ship that Frank Andrew helped me make real. Makkor asked in return a favor of Aaran, and Aaran managed to repay the favor. I had hoped to return a favor, too–to do what I could to see Frank in print–but I will not get to repay my favor.

I don’t know what religion, if any, Frank followed. I don’t know what words to say in this world, but since I knew Frank primarily in relation to worlds that don’t exist, I’d like to offer a goodbye from the world he had such a large hand in helping me create.


Tuua knelt on the deck beside Neeran, and put one hand on the boy’s narrow chest. Aaran stood at the child’s head, wishing Neeran didn’t look so young, so small, so helpless. Wishing they had someplace for his body but the cold depths of the sea.

Wishing that someone somewhere would weep that he was gone, and understand what a good boy he had been.

The boy wasn’t Tonk, but he was theirs. So Tuua said the prayer for a Tonk warrior for him.

“Jostfar silent but near,
Ethebet, hand of the sword,
Guardians of the souls of your people,
Take Neeran Old-Walk home,
To horses and meadows and family
And the long halls of the honored.
Give him place, and name,
And rest for a time.
Remember him,
And that he served in life,
Honored living.
That he is in death,
Honored dead.”

“Gitaada,” Aaran said, in unison with Tuua and the other Tonk officers gathered around the bodies, and with the sailors and marines who had fought and lived. And the women and girls, who whispered “Gitaada,” with the rest.

Aaran said, “The spirit is gone to the Summerland. The body remains, but is not the boy. We honor the life of Neeran Old-Walk, and grieve it’s passing. We are made less by his absence.”

Aaran folded the shroud around the boy’s body. So small, so young. He had died fighting, a dagger in his hand. He had been brave. He had deserved a long life, and great adventure.

Aaran forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand; on folding the corners, on wrapping the cords, on tying the knots. Each step had to be done with respect, in the old way. Each step took concentration — and it was as he squared the corners and carefully tied the Falcon-Head knot at each point down the midline that he understood why. It was a way of stepping back. Of building a wall between the living and the dead, of making the death about form and custom, so that it could be borne a piece at a time.

Aaran finished the wrapping, which was always the captain’s duty, and nodded to his officers. Six men would not be needed to carry the boy’s body to the rail of the gombaar deck — but six men would carry it, because that was the way a warrior went. Two officers, one marine, and one sailor stepped forward, and along with Tuua and Aaran, carried what remained of the boy to the rail.

Aaran bore responsibility for the next part of the ritual. When the afterdeck filled with everyone aboard ship save the healers and the injured, Aaran said the old words:

“His spirit is with Jostfar.
His flesh is as nothing.
He was born of salt and tears,
In a gush of brine and blood.
His flesh is one with the sea,
And the sea will keep him.”

Aaran tried not to look as the wrapped body hit the water, as the lead sewn into the shroud bore it down, beyond vision, beyond retrieval.

He would remember Neeran. Even if the boy had no other family, he’d had a family on the Taag. And Aaran stood in as his father. And no father would forget his own son.

Find the Summerland, Frank, in whatever fashion you sought it, and live on with the heroes, and with your beloved Gretchen.

You will not be forgotten here, in name or in spirit.

The novel HAWKSPAR will be dedicated to the memory of Frank O’Brien Andrew, without whom it would have still existed, but without whom it could not have been as good.

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23 responses to “A Writer’s Goodbye: Frank O’Brien Andrew”

  1. Bryan Richards Avatar
    Bryan Richards

    Frank O’Brien Andrew was my God-Father. I’ve known him since I was a baby. He was the best friend of my father. I miss him dearly, even now almost 6 long years since his untimely death. I have never met man as wise as he nor do I feel I will before I die.

  2. Caren Life Singleton Avatar
    Caren Life Singleton

    I haven’t had the guts to really look at this page all mainly because it was too painful for me to read about my sister and her husband. All I can say is that after reading this, I am very much touched with all these kind, and wonderful words. I am so touched that both Gretchen and Frank meant to all these people.
    I love you and Gretchen and Frank and I miss you so dearly…………..Love your younger sister, Caren

  3. laandrew Avatar

    Although I can see the comments on this subject are quite old I am moved to comment. I am Frank’s cousin Anthony. I grew up in Texas while Frank grew up in Ohio so we were not close. My father became close to Frank via email while Frank and Gretchen were living in New Orleans. My father used to relate stories about Frank’s writing and shipbuilding endeavors. Before hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans Frank and Gretchen, while making their way to Colorado, stopped to visit my father in San Antonio. I was blessed with being able to spend a day with the two of them. As many of you commented Frank and Gretchen were clearly in love and devoted to each other. We were immediate friends. Frank and Gretchen discussed their lives and were genuinely interested in mine. Frank told me about his ship building, showing me the progress online. Gretchen discussed the hospital she was working in and I could tell she truly loved what she was doing. They both asked me about my stand-up comedy career and Frank asked me about my writing process, ME. I was so humbled. We went to downtown San Antonio and did lot’s of touristy things and genuinely had an excellent day. When the day was completed all I could think of was going to New Orleans for Jazz Festival to enjoy their company the next year. Unfortunately that was not to happen. I will never forget the sound of my father’s voice the night he called to tell me the terrible news. Besides Frank and Gretchen’s parents I can’t imagine that this affected anyone in a more devastating way. I will always treasure that day I spent with Frank and Gretchen and I am so thankful to have found this site and discover what I had so strongly suspected. That Frank and Gretchen were a truly extraordinary people, who’s existence, although short on this Earth was of incredible, and positive reach.

  4. Holly Avatar

    Frank’s father is the steward of Frank’s work. You could get in touch with him.

  5. peggydeverell Avatar

    I just found out about Frank and Gretchen through this web site. I met Gretchen just before she graduated from medical school here in Denver, Co. She introduced me to Frank. They made were made for each other. I starte looking for them because they were planing on move back to CO. after Gretchen graduated from medical school this past May. The world has lost two wonderful people.
    Could you please tell me how I can get copies of Frank’s writings?

  6. Brian Hopkins Avatar
    Brian Hopkins

    Thanks to all of you who sent me the contact info that I was looking for.

    Brian Hopkins

  7. Brian Hopkins Avatar
    Brian Hopkins

    Missing Frank and Gretchen!

    I knew Gretchen for 25 years. But saddly only met Frank once. He was the love of her life, having been married twice before, Frank was EVERYTHING to Gretchen. Heck, Frank even named his own website “one lucky guy.com” after her because they were so in love. I would love to be able to contact the Life family. I just sent Frank’s Dad an e-mail, but would love to find the Life family’s contact info. I know it’s way after the fact of the couple’s passing, but I had sent Gretchen two to three e-mails and could not figure why they were being bounced back. Does any one know a way I can contact them? Please e-mail me back at sayhitobri@hotmail.com.

    Thank you Gretchen for being on this Earth. You always had a joke, a smile and a happy thought to share. Taking care of children was your life’s ambission and you reached that, all be it too short.

    Thanks Frank for touching so many lives! You made Gretch so very happy and brought smiles, warm thoughts and great skill to us all!

    This was a TRUCK AND HEART BREAKING SHOCK to find the article about your passing, and we know that you are both together now, and we pray you are happier than ever!

    Most sincerly,

    Brian Hopkins
    Washington, DC

  8. rocketgas Avatar

    I knew Gretchen when we worked as interns back in New Orleans. During that hectic year, I met many people while rotating through many services. Gretchen was my favorite character. If you have met her, she was a very memorable person. She was this funny, energetic and an extremely chatty lady, who never ran out things to say. A truly bubbly personality, you would say. One day, she came in on a Monday morning looking as red as a cooked lobster, “My husband builds boat in our backyard, we took a brand new boat out for a ride on Sunday.” You can hear the excitement in her voice, “We saw ducts, alligators….” Even though I have not seen her since then, I miss her.

  9. ratboy Avatar

    Thank you for the wonderful comments on Frank. From the comments here it looks like a nice gathering of his and Gretchen’s friends. Like you, I only knew him online over the last three or four years, but you can get a pretty good idea of someone’s worth when they’re as honest and up front as Frank – and hey! He had a pet rat and you can’t go wrong there! I’m sad to see his site is gone now, but I have a good memory.

  10. ehadle Avatar

    I knew Gretchen and Frank through my work with her at University Hospital PICU where I was a nurse. I just learned of their death today when I touched base with my Supervisor, as our group is scattered to the 4 winds. I want to express my sympathy to the Andrew and Life families and will keep them in my prayers.

  11. Sherri921 Avatar

    Holly-wow, what an awesome tribute to Frank. My husband and son and I knew Frank and his wife Gretchen for 17+ years and I don’t think any of us could have captured the essence of him or his spirit better. I just now read this because I wasn’t ready before (although I had heard about it), but I had to say “thank you” and I am glad that there will be a tribute to him in the book he helped you with.

  12. Brad Avatar

    I’m one of the lucky ones that knew Frank. We worked together in Atlanta several years ago and managed to keep in touch all these years. Frank was very good about emailing, just to say hi or check on my family. And he always had positive, un-judgmental words of wisdom about whatever it was we were discussing. But some of my best memories of Frank are of brewing beer together. Then getting together to enjoy the fruits of our labor. And fortunately, I met Gretchen as well, back before they were married. What a wonderful, warm and beautiful young woman. She had a sparkling personality. Frank was a great friend and he will be sorely missed. I gain some comfort, knowing that I’m not the only one that will miss him so much. It is clear from all the comments I’ve read, here and on other places, that Frank was loved and will be missed.

    Richard, My sincere condolences to you, Lois and the Life family. May you somehow find comfort in your loss. But know that I will always be there for you in spirit, to support you when comfort is beyond reach.

    Brad Pryor
    Atlanta, GA

  13. Dick Avatar


    This is Richard Andrew, Frank’s father. I want to thank you for being such a good friend and mentor to Frank. I want to thank, also, the many friends who left such wonderfull and comforting comments. They do not lessen the pain, but they give heart and courage to endure it.
    Thank you all.

    —Richard H. Andrew

  14. ulf Avatar

    I came across the article in the Times-Picayune about the tragic death of
    Frank Andrew and Gretchen Life. I found this site when searching for more information.
    As a graduate student in Colorado Springs in the mid 80s, I shared household with a Gretchen Life and two other people. I had
    just arrived for the first time in the US, and I have very fond memories of the family Life, their
    hospitality, and how they introduced me to American life. Unfortunately, we lost touch shortly after both I and the Family Life moved away from Colorado, in different direction.
    I can’t be sure that it is the same Gretchen Life that was found drowned,
    but unfortunately her name as well as the age agree. Her father, Richard Life, was at that time a naval
    officer at NORAD. If anyone on this blog knows if Gretchen is indeed the same person, I would appreciate very much if you could help me
    get in touch with her parents, so that I could send my condolances to them. My email is golestan@freesurf.fr

  15. Linda Avatar

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful memory and tribute.

  16. mythusmage Avatar

    Damn, seems this is the season for unexpected deaths. A chap by the name of Steven Malcolm Anderson died Nov. 27th. Likely not somebody anybody here has ever heard of, but at places such as Dean’s World


    and Classical Values


    he was a large part of the community.

    It especially hurts when the person you’ve just lost was such a helpful part of your life. Whether it be digging up some information on a city, or commenting on a news story you’ve just fisked. Sometimes they tick you off, but when they’re gone you realize how much you relied on them.

    So here’s to Anderson and Andrews. Without people like them we’d have a much harder time of things.

  17. louis Avatar

    I’ve know Frankand Gretchen for several years now. We met thorough his cousin Joel Tucker- a good friend.
    Joel would round up friends for dinner
    on Frenchman street whenever he answered New Orleans’ siren call.
    Inevitably Frank and Gretchen were there- Frank being his affable witty self and Gretchen describing her love of pediatrics. What a terrible season.i’ve lost my home to Katrina and now a lovely couple to Lake
    Pontchartrain. They will be missed greatly.

    Louis Medrano
    expatriate New Orleanian
    Los angeles Ca

  18. Jim Avatar

    May the Eternal Healer hold and cherish Frank and Gretchen, and grant a measure of his peace to you and those others who mourn their passing.

  19. Breece Avatar

    It’s a wonderful tribute; thank you for sharing it. May it serve to honor Frank and Gretchen, and also sustain you through those moments of grief still yet to come.

  20. Rick Avatar

    Hugs and prayers to you and his family. May he rest peacefully.

  21. tambo Avatar

    Me, too, Holly.

    I never met him but we e-mail chatted often and he was so brilliant, so insightful, so honest and wonderful. I’m still crying and it’s so hard because, like you, I always figured I’d meet him in person some day.

    Ofen, when I was feeling down and scared and ready to say to hell with this, Frank would flip me shit and make me laugh. He didn’t try to fix it or reason it out for me, he’d just tell me a story about his pet rat or what screwy thing he’d read in some science journal (pay attention, Tam, this’ll be part of your life in five years!) or whatever. He was a wonderful, wonderful man, on the brink of publication with his requested changes to Virgin of New Orleans almost done, on the steps to greatness, so freaking insightful and smart and funny and… and now we must manage without him.

    He helped me through a lot of tough spots in Valley of the Soul, helped me to understand teenage boys, and helped me just to survive this horrible year.

    He touched so many. May his spirit find wings and fly with his beloved Gretchen forever.

  22. PJ Avatar

    Quite touching, Holly. It’s amazing how people today make bonds with those they’ve never met face to face. I know a lot of writers out there who are feeling the loss of this man. Everyone has such nice things to say, it makes me wish I had known him, too. I don’t mean this to sound trite, but as long as so many people think of him with such fond memories, a little part of Frank will always be with you all.



  23. Mary Avatar

    What a wonderful way to say goodbye. Hugs.

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