One of Beliefnet’s best writers, bestselling author Linda G. Howard, has been my friend for 28 years. She and her husband, Frank, took my bride and me under their wing when we were newlywed and 2,000 miles away from friends and family.
I had taken an incredibly high-pressure job that often left me drained. On weekends, Willa and I would escape 70 miles to the Howards’ house on Florida’s Space Coast Friday nights and stay until Sunday night in an unfinished second story “Upper Room” they had built onto their house.
Less than a mile from their front door, I found solace catching waves off of Indian Harbour Beach on a used surfboard with a broken fin. Today both my sons love surfing. I have graduated to ocean kayaking. There’s nothing like bobbing in the swells, communing with nature as you wait for the perfect set of waves.
Together, Frank and I probed the potential of Macintosh computers in 1983 back when the screens were monochrome and had 128 K capacity. Hard drives were single-write and considered immense if they were 1 megabyte.
I was stunned by the potential of on-screen editorial, typesetting and design. Frank was thrilled with Excel, which he used as a starting point for computer models in his job at NASA.
At home, his projects included attempting to harness the Kerillian Effect, that completely mysterious force in the universe that causes moons, planets, solar systems and galaxies to spin. Why do they? Why don’t they slow down? Frank was certain the effect could be harnessed. He loved it when George Lucas in the first Star Wars movie had Han Solo brag that his souped-up Millenium Falcon could even outrun the Federation’s “Kerillian cruisers.”
Frank loved singing God’s praises. The more he studied the universe, the more he was convinced that our Creator was behind its complexity.
Like Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, Frank didn’t always look like a genius. He forgot to comb his hair or trim his mustache. He lurched dangerously through crowds wildly weilding aluminum crutches clamped onto his arms due to poorly functioning leg and back muscles.
Back in the early 1970s, the Navy came to NASA with a problem of too much garbage on nuclear submarines. Frank had a simple solution: compressing the stuff that couldn’t effectively be reused. As a result, Frank devised one of the first trash compactors. One of his last projects was to try to determine whether there is a progressive accelleration in time — slight but increasing and affecting NASA’s deep space probes.
He was a genius. As we all watched in horror as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in front of our eyes, he mused aloud that it looked like a malfunction of the O rings. Millions of dollars and a year later, NASA investigators came to the same conclusion.
Most of the time, Frank had to stop and think in order to explain to me in dumbed-down terms what he was working on. He helped me to understand such complex issues as the reality that even great leaders of our faith — who due to my job, I was constantly meeting and working with — yes, had feet of clay, enormous egos and inexplicable theological inconsistencies. “They’re human, just like you, Rob,” he wryly told me when I was frustrated with a well-known, internationally respected author and speaker.
Frank died last night after a series of strokes.
Linda knew it was coming and had written ahead of time a week’s worth of Beliefnet blogs so she can concentrate on family, friends and Frank’s services this weekend. That’s the kind of person she is. She called me an hour after his passing. She was at peace. She knows Frank is.
If I seem to be gazing out the window a little today, I am thinking of an old buddy who today is in the presence of his Creator and finally understands the role of black holes and is chuckling as he finally comprehends the simplicity of God’s Kerillian Effect.
And without aluminum crutches clamped to his arm, this morning Frank is jogging around heaven having already moved on to more important things, such as the reality that he now has eternity in which to praise the God he adores — whose handiwork always kept my friend Frank Howard so completely amazed.
Beliefnet Senior Editor Rob Kerby