Niched fourth in the descendant line of what became a well-known entrepreneurial seven-generation (to date) Oregon family, Gerry Frank is the great grandson of the founder of Meier & Frank Co., Aaron Meier. Perhaps more importantly, he is the son of Aaron Frank, a lawyer by education conscripted into the retail world when Aaron’s uncle, Julius Meier, was himself recruited into the state political arena, winning the governorship (Oregon’s only successful Independent run) in 1931.
There was no question in Gerry’s mind as to his vocation following the interruption of WWII service (General Patton’s Third Army, sergeant, 89th Infantry Division) and then higher education at Cambridge University (B.A. and M.A.) in England; he would, of course, follow in his father’s footsteps as a “rag merchant.” Trained under his father’s stern hand, Gerry learned the business at the Portland downtown location at 6th and Morrison from the ground up – starting (at the top) on the 15th floor, as Gerry likes to say – where all merchandise was received and opened for floor distribution. All went according to plan and the heyday of Oregon’s, and perhaps the West’s, most famous department store (founded in 1857), continued until 1965 when, as often happens, the M&F partnership dissolved in family conflict.
Going back a bit, though, in the early 1950s it was decided that the first satellite store would be under Gerry’s supervision. After much thought, incognito travel and a year’s trip around the world investigating department store layouts, merchandising and all the fine points of building a new store, Salem was selected. The downtown Salem building of what is today a Macy’s operation, was built with every detail planned by its store manager-to-be. This was a chance for Gerry to be his own man, making a mark in an entirely new community – and make it he has, lo for nearly 60 years. He was an eager young man and on his father’s sage advice made it his business to become immediately involved in the Salem community, being named the city’s youngest First Citizen.
When the store fell from the hands of the family to ownership by the May Co. in 1965, Gerry found himself a young man without a job. Growing up under the tutelage of Aaron Frank where work and work ethic were everything (silver spoon or not), Gerry considered his options and accepted an offer from his friend Mark Hatfield to come to Washington, D.C. in his first U.S. Senate term. Gerry had already helped Hatfield with his two-term gubernatorial elections and had been his campaign chair for the Senate run as well. (Little did he know that it would turn into a career covering a quarter-century.) During this Senate time, as all through his life, Gerry has been an inveterate traveler, having set foot in some 150 countries.
Many people who go to D.C. largely lose their state connection, but not Gerry; he saw to it that the Senator was on regular swing trips to visit constituents in every corner of Oregon.
While the work was exciting, the atmosphere was stifling with 24/7 politics, so he opted out of D.C. on the weekends. The routine was to fly home every other weekend (if you can imagine this grueling schedule); if not in Oregon on those weekends, then up to New York City Gerry went, also a town for which he has great affection stemming from childhood accompaniment with his father on buying trips. (M&F was the only store west of the Mississippi that kept its own staffed New York City buying office.)
As an aside in this eclectic tale, the first edition of Gerry Frank’s Where to Find It, Buy It, Eat It in New York came about through Gerry’s wanderings of Manhattan streets. With his vast knowledge of this overwhelming metropolis, people in D.C., particularly, would ask him where to stay, what to do and where to find this or that. One day someone said, “Gerry, you ought to write a book.” And so he did. The short version is that the book is updated every other year, now in its 17th edition (2012/2013), with over a million copies sold. Quite a story!
Gerry always kept close tabs on his home state, participating in civic clubs, Chamber activities, a member for 16 years (chair for eight) of Oregon’s Economic Development Commission, helped found the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Oregon Garden and the Oregon Trail Interpretive Centers and was often in the middle of other state political decision-making; among others, he served for decades on the U.S. Bank and Standard Insurance boards.
Following his 1992 chief-of-staff retirement from the Senate, the only thing that seemingly has changed is his devout absence from Washington. He is busier than ever, still maintaining a schedule of speaking (some 300 annual requests), attending meetings and social events and running businesses that would push a younger person to the brink! The secret? While luck-of-the-draw genes play an important role, sheer interest in a myriad of concerns is at the core, including the appreciation of this special place we are privileged to call home.
He chaired the Oregon Tourism Commission from 1996 to 2001, did weekly television gigs for Channel 12’s Northwest Reports and Good Day Oregon for eight years and also worked with Channel 2, has continued writing (for over 25 years) a wide-ranging (now focusing on travel) column for The Oregonian, is hands-on at his very successful Gerry Frank’s Konditorei in Salem (full-service restaurant and gourmet cake shop), chairs the Oregon State Police Foundation, maintains his always open-door policy to anyone who may want to see him and the list goes on. He is continually sought out as people feel the need to “run this by Gerry.” In one way or another, things that happen in Oregon seem to come right through Gerry Frank’s office.
From this book, you will gain insight into current places to see and things to do along with learning a bit of Oregon history and you may exclaim, “I never knew that!”