The sports simulation board game world lost a true Hall of Famer a couple weeks ago when Fran Larkin passed away Saturday morning, June 25th after a year-long battle with cancer. It's hard to know what to say, but Fran was such a presence in the hobby that I felt he should be remembered, and honored.
If you didn't know Fran, or know of him, he was fan of all tabletop sports, but especially baseball. There were few things that got Fran more fired up than the start of a new baseball season. He played a number of different tabletop baseball games, appreciating each one for its nuances and strengths and would often post reports of his games on the various sports game forums. He was also quick to offer an encouraging word in response to someone else's posts, baseball or otherwise. My favorite Fran-ism: "Fun stuff!" He was a prolific contributor to the sports board game community, a wonderful ambassador for the hobby and is already dearly missed.
I was lucky enough to get to spend an afternoon with Fran a couple years ago, at our "Fall Classic Pre-PLAAY" in the Boston suburb of Plainville. It was such a joy to meet him and share face-to-face the experience of playing tabletop baseball—something that is such a core activity for both of us. As some know, Fran was color-blind, and brought along his own special version of HMB with the color-coded results spelled out in print: EXP, MOOD, and NOW. There are pictures on the website, I found myself smiling at the memories as I went back and reviewed everything. Such a great day! As it was beginning to wind down, I asked Fran if he wanted to stay after and play a one-off game with the 1949 cards, one of his favorite seasons, head-to-head, his choice of teams. He looked at me for a few seconds and thought it over, and, with an impish grin, said "naaaaah, I better get home!" We agreed that we'd play that game on my next trip to the Boston area. I'm sorry that we won't get to do that.
Fran spent 30+ years working for IBM, living for many of those years in Danbury, CT. He retired in 2004 and he and his wife Kathy moved to Newburyport, MA in 2008. He wrote a book, published that year, entitled "Five Words and Then Some." In it, Fran spelled out the outlook on life he'd successfully used to forge his own happy, contented, busy life, distilling 60 years of living into to five words—(well, technically, SIX words): hard work, attitude, enthusiasm, perseverance and fun. If I'm remembering correctly, the book came about after he put the thoughts down on paper as a graduation gift for a relative. But he quickly realized that ANY graduate could benefit from these plain-spoken, traditional ideas and values, so he polished it up, filled in the gaps, and shared his encouraging message with everyone. I picked up a copy about four years ago, and read it to my kids as a "gathered-around-the-table" after-dinner series. We had some great discussions and I have seen evidence that Fran's words sunk in!
Anyone who'd like to know Fran, or know more about him, will find reading his book to be a delightful experience. It's not fancy, it's not deep—it's unpretentious, plain-spoken, and fun, just like the man himself! I love how he closed the book, posing a hypothetical question about why—with all the self-help advice and fast-track formulas for success that are out there—why should someone take THESE Five Words as being so special? Fran writes, "That's a good question. Let me tell you a short story about a young man who grew up in a small town on Cape Cod many years ago...
"He didn't live in the fanciest house, and his family didn't have the biggest car. His family didn't have lots of money, either. His SAT scores were only so-so, and his IQ wasn't anything great. He graduated in the middle of his high school class and the bottom five per cent of his college class. When he was in high school, his guidance counselor told his parents he shouldn't take French because he stuttered too much, and he wouldn't be good with languages. And he was so nervous being an altar boy that he actually cried when his father dropped him off at mass because he was nervous about being in front of so many people.
"After college graduation, he needed a job because he was getting married a few months later. He finally got one on his twenty-sixth interview, but it wasn't the job he applied for. He didn't qualify for that one, but they had a lower-level job that paid less money, and he needed work, so he took it.
"And no matter what he did from then on, he applied these Five Words to everything he did—at work, in the community, at church, in the neighborhood, and in his home. And now, many years later, he has the most beautiful wife, three wonderful children, and a really nice house and yard. He has retired from a high-level job with a major computer company where he made a very good salary. He has the respect and admiration of his family, friends, coworkers and peers. And he has given speeches in front of hundreds of people.
"And this man did all of the above because he applied these Five Words to everything he did. I think you know who I am talking about. He is the guy who wrote this book. Godspeed to you all."
Fran enjoyed writing, almost as much as he enjoyed tabletop baseball! He had an online blog on which he continued to voice his special, brand of down-to-earth wisdom. His post on baseball's opening day last year (2015) is especially poignant now...
"Today is the opening of Major League Baseball. The Cardinals play at the Cubs. This is always an exciting day for me. I love to follow baseball and I have a library of several hundred baseball books. And one of the great pleasures in life, for me, is getting up in the morning, and reading the box scores of the previous days games in the Boston Globe, while sipping the morning coffee.
"To get in the mood I just watched some scenes on YouTube from the Field of Dreams movie. I watched James Earl Jones great speech about baseball and people will come. And then I watched the scene with Kevin Costner playing catch with his father. Joe Jackson tells him if you build it (the field) he will come. And of course, he meant Kevin's father. What a scene. I got moist eyes watching that. My father has been gone 35 years now. I can't play catch with him anymore. But I do think of him every day. And I carry his last drivers license in my wallet, as I have done since he died. So in a sense he is always with me!
"To all the sons and daughters out there, get out there and play catch with your father and if he can't play catch, hug him and kiss him. And if he is not nearby, call him. Talk to him. Don't tweet, text or email. Before you know it, he will be walking out into the cornfield."
Memorial contributions may be made in Fran's name to Pennies for Poverty, an organization for which Fran served as board member, P.O. Box 532 Newburyport, MA 01950. Please write the word "donation" in the memo space on your check. You may also contribute in Fran's honor to the Alzheimer's Association, 480 Pleasant Street Watertown, MA 02472.
Visit Fran's obituary page on the Twomey, LeBlanc and Conte Funeral Home website.
Visit Fran's website, franlarkin.com.
Information on purchasing Fran's book, "Five Words and Then Some."
Fran's online blog