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PETER FRANCIS JR.
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TRIBUTES
To see tributes from the Bead Community, go to Sidney Oliver's website HandThoughts.

Beads-L list-serv co-facilitator Deborah Zinn compiled these tributes into a memorial book for the Reverend and Mrs. Francis.


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In Memoriam Peter Francis, Jr. 1945 - 2002

By Jamey Allen, originally published in the Northern California Bead Society Bulletin, and updated to reflect changes since the time it was written.

Just a couple of months ago, the bead community was shocked to hear that internationally-recognized bead scholar and Lake Placid, New York resident Peter Francis Jr. died on December 8th, while pursuing bead research in Ghana, West Africa. He apparently died from a spontaneous brain hemorrhage at the age of 57. Peter was born in Ellsworth, Kansas, August 6, 1945, attended the Ellsworth schools and graduated in 1963. He later attended Park University in Kansas City, Missouri, and earned his Master's Degree at The General Theological Seminary in New York City. Peter received many grants and prizes for his work, including:

  • The Kerr History Prize
  • The Dorothy Wetmore Gerrity Award (from the Northern California Bead Society)
  • The Smithsonian Travel Grant
  • The Hagyup Kevorkian Grant
  • The Asian Arts Council (Rockefeller Foundation) Grant
  • The Alden B. Dow Creativity Fellowship
  • The UNESCO Silk Roads Participant Grant
  • and many other grants from American bead societies.
Peter has been well-known and respected locally since the time of his first lectures for The Northern California Bead Society in 1979 and '80. At that time, I was the Vice President of our organization, and was pleased to have Peter as a visitor in my home during his stays in the Bay Area.

We quickly became friends and in frequent communication, and co-founded The Society of Bead Researchers in 1981, which has grown to become an international organization. At that time, he was living primarily in Puna, India, and attending Deccan College, working toward a degree that he eventually did not complete. Peter was a prolific writer, and composed dozens of articles about beads and bead research, and two books. He was a frequent contributor to The Bead Journal and Ornament Magazine. His book on the Maritime Bead Trade in Southeast Asia, a major work, had just been released this past March. At the time of his death, he was working on two additional books of archaeological significance, though it is not known whether these will be completed posthumously.

Before the close of the 1980s, Peter had founded the Center for Bead Research, based at his home in Lake Placid. From this base, he self-published an entire series of booklets, and a serial newsletter called The Margaritologist. He traveled around the world to study beads some fourteen times, and made significant contributions to bead study that will persevere through history. In the 1990s, Peter established a presence on the World Wide Web with the development of thebeadsite.com, arguably the most popular bead place in cyberspace. It is still currently running, and remains a prime resource for all manner of information about beads and beadwork. [This site will close the end of March 2003, but The Wayback Machine has Peter's site archived. Here's the current URL: http://web.archive.org/web/*/www.thebeadsite.com .]

Peter is survived by his parents, the Reverend Peter Francis, Sr., and Phyllis Francis, who live in Lake Placid, and by his brother Chris, his sister-in-law, Stephanie, and their two children, Emily and Henry, who all live in Australia. He is also survived by his uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Ed Walsh, and their children and grandchildren, who live in Florida and Texas.

A memorial service for Peter took place Tuesday, January 21st at 11 a.m. at St. Eustace Episcopal Church in Lake Placid, New York.


Peter Francis Jr. Memorial Service
Lake Placid, New York January 21, 2003


by James Lankton, from a posting on the Beads-L list-serv

I arrived home last night, after a stay in Washington to work at the Bead Museum, and a trip to Lake Placid for Pete's memorial service, on Tuesday, 21 January, at 11am. The drive up wasn't as long as I expected (only 12 hours or so), and I was able to stop overnight in Nazareth, PA, to visit with Hansel de Sousa, a Beads-L member.

The Service was held at Saint Eustace Episcopal Church, on Main Street in the Village of Lake Placid, which in the winter is a small town of a few thousand people. The day was bright and sunny, with a clear view of the mountains surrounding the town. Although the nights were chilly (minus 20 degrees Farenheit), during the day it warmed up into the single digits. The church itself is quite lovely, with natural wood-paneled interior, and several beautiful stained glass windows. For a few minutes before the Service, I met with Pete's parents, Rev. Peter and Phyllis, as well as Chris, Pete's brother, who has been living in Australia for over 20 years.

The sanctuary was quite full, with approximately 100 people in attendance. Many of those present appeared to be friends of Pete's parents, who are well known and respected in Lake Placid, where Rev. Francis was the head of "Camelot," a Franciscan home for boys. Two graduates of the school returned to Lake Placid for the Service, with one flying in from Chicago, and the other currently living in Nairobi. Lorann (Lori) Pendleton, from the American Museum of Natural History, came up from New York, and I was there from the "Bead World." Lori has been working with Peter on the beads from St. Catherine's, the northernmost Spanish mission in North America.

The Service itself lasted almost exactly one hour. Mrs. Virginia Gilmore, the organist at St. Eustace, played some very lovely Preludes as we entered the church. Rev. Judson Pealer, and Rev. Alan Macnab led the Service, which included a mixture of Prayers for Peter and his family and friends, mixed with hymns sung by those present and by Jim Rogers, a friend of the Francis family, who sang the hymn "How Great Thou Art." Psalms 23, "The Lord is my shepherd," and 121, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills," left few dry eyes.

Rev. Macnab's sermon discussed Peter's internationally-known work in bead research, and his feelings on meeting such a person in the small town of Lake Placid. After we stood for "The Lord's Prayer," those who wanted had the opportunity to say some words about Peter and the Francis family. Chris Francis gave an emotional eulogy which touched all hearts, while several friends recalled more light-hearted moments in Pete's life.

Both Lori and I took the chance to speak. Lori discussed some of the very interesting work she had been doing with Peter, and I spoke in more general terms about Peter's life and legacy. I've attached my remarks for those who want to read them. To be honest, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get through my talk, and had a copy in front of me for both memory and as a way to keep me going from one point to another. A couple of times I had to stop to take a deep breath, but I had practiced some of the more difficult sections several times while driving up in the car, and I think that helped a lot. Thoughts which are very sad when first expressed lose some of their sting by the 10th or 12th time, and that got me through. The positive comments later of many of those present made me glad I'd made the effort to let Pete's home community know a little about his broader life.

After the Blessing and Dismissal, followed by Hymn 400 from the Episcopal Hymnal, we all went downstairs to the fellowship hall for a very good lunch, organized by the Church and the Francis family. "Father Pete" and Phyllis had already shown me the wonderful tribute book which Deborah Zinn had sent on behalf of the Beads-L members, and this book was again on display during the luncheon. It was clear that this gift meant so much to them, and all who contributed can feel very proud of their efforts.

After lunch, both Lori and I visited the Francis home in Lake Placid, and the Center for Bead Research which Pete had set up in the downstairs area. His extensive library and collections were there, along with several display cases. Ginny, who had helped Pete with his administrative work until a few years ago, had organized some of the materials, and I was impressed with the neatness and lack of clutter.

The day ended with a very nice dinner with Lori at The Veranda, a restaurant connected with the Holiday Inn, where we both were staying. I learned quite a bit about St. Catherine's, as well as about the challenges Lori now faces to reconstruct a bibliography for the draft manuscript that Pete had given her last year. The St. Catherine's project is a big one, and not having Peter's active input is a great loss.

I hope this report has been adequate to give the many friends who could not attend at least an idea of what it was like. I know that Karlis had been there the previous week, and regretted not being able to return. I'm sure that many other Beads-L members deeply wanted to be there as well. I hope I was able to say and do some of the things you would find appropriate. I certainly didn't pretend to be the "representative" of anyone other than myself, but I think it was clear to Rev. and Mrs. Francis that there were many others who were there in spirit, and who shared some of my own feeling of loss.

Photo by James LanktonPhoto by James Lankton
Eulogy for Peter Francis Jr.
Delivered at the Memorial Service January 21, 2003


by James Lankton

"When a wise man dies, a library burns to the ground." This African proverb reflects the way many of us felt, on hearing the shocking news of the premature passing of Peter Francis Jr. Peter was our encyclopedia. Whenever we had a question about bead history or technology, or wanted to learn more about a bead we couldn't identify, we could call on Pete to either give us the answer, or point us in the right direction. And always with a spirit of sharing; never making us feel ignorant or insignificant. For this, we will miss him. Much of Peter's work lives on, through his many books and articles, both for the scholarly and the more popular press. But much more may be lost. Pete had a wonderful ability to combine his prodigious knowledge with keen intelligence, to make connections between one seemingly unrelated piece of information and another, and to come up with a unique insight which could be the beginning of a new story or theory. We will certainly miss his enthusiasm for learning, and his courage to pursue his work, even at peril to his own health.

When a wise man dies, a library burns to the ground.

The other thing I wanted to mention was what would become Pete's mantra, the phrase he repeated so many times in his writing and in his teaching: "It's not about the beads, it's about the people." Every time we would become too entranced by the beauty of the small, perforated object in our hands, we could feel Pete looking on to remind us: "it's not about the beads." Peter Francis Jr. was a historian, not of beads, but of humanity. The people who made the beads, those who traded, sold and bought them, those who used and loved them, and those who finally disposed of them so that they could come down to us today. But even more: right next to Peter's legacy of published scholarship will stand the more personal legacy of the many thousands of bead collectors, dealers, scholars, and amateurs whom he inspired. For this also, we will miss him. He shared his knowledge, whether through his teaching, and Pete was a natural teacher, though his publications, through the many conferences he organized, or, for those lucky enough to know him, through his friendship.

On a more personal note, I'm sure I would not have become so involved in bead collecting and research were it not for my exposure to Pete through his classes and through BeadExpo, the international bead conference he founded. I'm working now as a volunteer at the Bead Museum in Washington, DC, founded by the Bead Society of Greater Washington. Pete was present at the birth of our Society. Helen Banes, who would become the first president, had met Peter here in Lake Placid in 1983, and invited him to Washington to speak to a small group of bead enthusiasts. The success of his talk encouraged those present to form the Society, with Pete as godfather. Since then, he has returned many times; most recently, this past September, where he gave two lectures, for the Society and the general public, conducted his Bead Identification Workshop, and spent a full day going over beads on our Bead Timeline exhibit. But, of course, it wasn't just Washington. Pete helped found bead societies all over the country, indeed, all over the world. Pete was our Pied Piper, and many, many of us followed. He was our hero; imperfect perhaps, but sometimes we love our imperfect heroes even more. Of course, at times, he could be the burr under our saddles, but much more often, he truly was the wind beneath our wings. We will miss him. Peter Francis Jr. lived his life, not about the beads, but about the people.

For the past several years, one of Pete's many activities was to participate in several online discussion groups, both on his own website, and on others devoted to bead scholarship and bead collecting. He was generous with his knowledge and wise council, and sometimes remarkably patient with some bead tempest in a teacup which might arise. And he always signed his notes "Peace." Now we all know that peace today means different things to different people, and has become a contentious political issue. But I think that the peace that Peter was wishing for us is that sense of inner peace that all of us cherish, and all of us seek.

And so, Peace, to you, too, Peter. We miss you.


The Cause of Death

As told to Karlis Karklins by Peter's parents in early January 2003

Peter's parents received a medical report from Ghana concerning Peter's illness and death. The cause of death is listed as "Spontaneous subarachnoid haemorrhage" which means a spontaneous bleeding in the brain in the area known as the subarachnoid. It was explained that this area of the brain is very sensitive and must remain very fluid. Bleeding in this area causes death fairly quickly and is not an uncommon cause of death.

[Ed. note: Like many of the people reading this cause of death paragraph, I've wondered just what a "spontaneous subarachnoid haemorrhage" really was. James Lankton tells me that it is a kind of stroke.]


This page last updated July 7, 2003
Special thanks to the CSB's web advisor David Weisel