Betsy Johnson’s statement on the passing of Oregon icon Gerry Frank

Betsy Johnson attends the dedication of the Gerry Frank | Salem Rotary Amphitheater in Riverfront Park on Friday, July 23, 2021 (Ron Cooper)

The word “icon” is tossed around too freely, but Gerry Frank really was an Oregon icon.

He grew up in political royalty. His family owned Meier & Frank, Oregon’s premier department store, and his uncle was Gov. Julius Meier.

Gerry was an influencer before there was social media, but his influence was in a quiet, understated way. He knew people in every corner of this state, in every corner of the world. 

He was a man who took the time to write thank-you notes to all kinds of people. Not just to people who might be in a position to do him a favor.

During the prime of his political career, working first for Gov. and then-Sen. Mark Hatfield, Gerry used everything he learned about customer service growing up in Meier & Frank and applied it to public service. Phones were answered. Messages were returned. The point was to help people – not avoid them. 

Gerry trained up all the staff when he worked for Hatfield. The joke was you could recognize them by their uniform – gray pants, navy blue jacket, white shirt and red tie. It was substance that mattered, not flash.

Some people will read the obits on Gerry and think, “Well, we have Amazon now.” Meier & Frank had a profound cultural and civic influence on Oregonians. It was the hub of downtown Portland and took its community responsibility seriously. During the Depression, the store didn’t charge interest or dun customers to pay their bill. It ran a one-word newspaper advertisement: “Confidence.”

Today politicians talk about working both sides of the political aisle. Gerry never had to work at it. He came by it naturally. He understood that everybody wants to be seen and heard. He was a great listener.

I will miss him so much.