Gary Francois; too late my thanks

My greatest flaw is that I do not say thank you.   I do not mean the casual thanks of polite conversation, “thank you for holding the door,” or “thank you for fixing the sink,” but the real appreciation do someone who has touched my life.  I do not write thank you notes, do not attend events honoring mentors and am even lax about funerals.  I am full of excuses about time and work.  Yesterday it caught up with me.  I lost forever the chance to say thank you for saving me.

Professor Gary R. Francois died on July 30, 2014, in a hospice in Galesburg, Illinois.  He spent his career teaching psychology and guiding countless students at my alma mater, Knox College.  He had a brilliant mind, a quick wit, an arresting gaze and a soft “is that really what you mean,” smile.   However, for me, he was something more.  Once upon a time when I faltered, he believed in me.

There are only a few such persons in a life; people who have faith in you, encourage you, have patience with you, for no reason other than they care.  They are not your relatives, you do not owe them money and even if they are bosses, teachers or friends, they do not have any real obligation to you.  Their gift of confidence and guidance is precious, because it is without guile.  They simply want you to be a better person.

At a time when I was slipping, Dr. Francois held out his hand.  I have not idea why or what he saw in a longhaired, tired, confused teen.  I slept through every lecture of his introductory class, snoring in the back row, and for his troubles, I received a mind-bending “C-.”  That was my best grade that trimester.  He always smiled, asked a question about my fragmenting life, and left open the possibility of something more.

In time, I was drawn to the safety of his office, where we would have conversations about everything and nothing at all.  He seemed to value my scattered thoughts, although I am certain my ramblings made him question my sanity.  Dr. Francois supported my dreams and helped me find a base on which to build a future.  In short, without that foundation, I would be a very different me.

Nonetheless, despite that infinite gift, I do not think I ever said thank you.  Oh, I talked to him at a college reunion, another thank-you-event I generally miss.  I made a donation, with the perfunctory note, when he retired.  Nevertheless, I did not, not ever, look him in the eye, touch his hand, and say; “your were the absolute teacher, the perfect mentor and you were there when I needed help. Because of you, I have had the chance to help others, if only a little. You made possible my family and your gift flows through their souls, even if they do not understand.”

Goodbye could have been thank you.  Perhaps, I could have sat at his bedside, or in chairs side-by-side.  Rambled on about abstract theory, as we did when I was young. We would have talked about life and what we discovered in the world. We would consider how our decisions changed not only our lives, but those we touched.  Our defeats, victories, and what we learned.  Shared memory, a couple laughs and tears.  I wonder if he would have smiled at me still, in that half skeptical way, challenging me to find the truth.  However, I screwed up.  I did not visit him.  A moment lost forever, a wisp blown away in a silent wind.

There are conversations that are important for each of us, as we end life.  I forgive you.  I love you.  You were important to me.  Maybe the lesson is that the end-of-life is too late.  We need to say these things everyday.  And, we need to say thank you.

Goodbye, Dr. Francois.  I hope you will forgive me.  I will never forget you.


  • Mary
    I, too, was too busy to really thank those who had helped to shape the wonderful life I had - until I faced losing life completely. Even on my sickbed with no ability to care for myself, I was a Hallmark thank you card. And now that I am cured?? I cannot thank them enough for teaching me to have the fortitude to stay alive, the stubbornness to keep searching for yet another answer, and the flexibility to adapt - things not in the class description! Their response? That somehow I have taught them more than they could dream of teaching. So now I learn graciousness from the best. I did lose a dear mentor early on - before the illness days. He came to me to tell me of his Alzheimer's - to tell me he wouldn't be there for me much longer. And as we talked of old times, I had the courage to look him in the eyes and thank him for allowing a scared little rabbit to find her way into a big wide world of possibility.
    • Thank you for sharing this.
  • You're so right. You should have made time for that important message. Doctor please don't do that again. As important as his words and acceptance were to you, I am equally sure yours were so important to him. Hugs to you and I am sorry for the loss of your friend.
  • meyati
    Thank you for bringing your mentor to life for me. As long as you and others remember him, he lives. Most great people realize that the thank you from their proteges comes from action, not often hollow words of thanks. The way you thanked him was when your eyes lit up when you saw him, You shared your hopes and confidences with him. That you matured and could stand on your own feet. The best way to say thank you to him is to be a mentor to others students. You feel many emotions right now, and you always will.
  • I would bet he knew how you felt. A lesson for us all. Keep giving to your patients and live to the fullest.
  • CB
    Thank YOU for sharing. And Thank You for supporting me.
  • Wow! Reminds me there are people in my life to whom I should say a very heartfelt thank you. To my grandson, born with a hypoplastic left heart, now coming up on his 18th birthday(thank you Dr. Foxx at Texas Children's Hospital in Ft. Worth, who re-plumbed that tiny little heart so many years ago. Thank you to Dr. Li, same hospital, who has been faithful in being there for Tristan all these years.). And thank you to Tristan, who comes over to my house and invites me to his house to watch the Texas Rangers play ball (bad as that is, we still watch!!). And thanks to you who takes the time to share your wisdom. Oh. And thanks to Dr. Cesar De Las Casas of San Antonio, Texas, who saw me through the first bouts of fear and trepidation when diagnosed with Waldenstroms macroglobulinemia which I could not even pronounce when my PCP, Dr. Brian Bull, first diagnosed me. Life is good. Texas sunsets are wonderful to behold, especially behind the silhouette of that grandson mowing my grass for me. Think I will take him some lemonade and tell him thank you!!
  • D Someya Reed
    I believe that if you could see in Dr. Francois' heart you would learn that you gave him the greatest thanks possible by making a success of yourself. If he's like others I have known he didn't do as he did for your thanks but for YOU and without thought for himself. Of course, it would have been nice to thank him and we should do so for others who help us along the way. But, we shouldn't beat ourselves up with "coulda, woulda, shoulda's for not having done then what we know now there's no possibility of doing. There's no going back. If he is the man you say he is (and I've no doubt he is) the best "thank you" you can give him (now or ever...past, present or future) is to take what he did for you and "pay it forward" to someone else. Both you and he will be happier for it and that someone else will learn twice as much, perhaps, as you did. Even without "thank you's" just imagine what a better world this would be if all of us did this, even if only once, in each of our lifetimes.
  • Iris
    Dr. Salwitz, the MD did know you were grateful. I saw it in his face; so tender and caring. There was a reason he held your hand or said "Thank you." I learned that lesson when I was just a small child, and the person always smiled back. That made me happy. It's as if sprinkles landed on a shoulder; garbage man, delivery person and yet, perhaps an MD, but they hurt me so not so much for them. Dr, S., when you have a patient in front of you and you must do a bone marrow biopsy on them....please forgive the patient for not blessing you or any other MD.
  • Sharon Nelson Kuhn
    Very sweet. Time it was and what a time it was.

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