A Life: Elaine Frank ‘knew when a little extra might help’

Volunteer Elaine Frank assists with the Richards Free Library's annual Library Festival Book Sale in August 2011. Frank helped organize the sale as a member of the Friends of the Library. (Courtesy Richards Free Library)

Volunteer Elaine Frank assists with the Richards Free Library's annual Library Festival Book Sale in August 2011. Frank helped organize the sale as a member of the Friends of the Library. (Courtesy Richards Free Library) Courtesy Richards Free Library

Elaine Frank at her Newport, N.H., home in July 2023 with her dog Pineapple. (Family photograph)

Elaine Frank at her Newport, N.H., home in July 2023 with her dog Pineapple. (Family photograph) Family photograph

Elaine Frank, of Newport, N.H., carried

Elaine Frank, of Newport, N.H., carried "Be Kind" buttons to hand out. “If there was something that riled people up, Elaine could bring the temperature down,” her neighbor Kathryn Baird said. (Courtesy photograph)

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 03-24-2024 9:06 PM

Modified: 03-25-2024 7:00 PM


NEWPORT — Elaine Frank knew when, where and how to do the right thing for others.

She could establish an instant connection with a large, diverse audience when talking about firearms safety and suicide prevention, offer support and comfort to someone going through a difficult time or pitch in with energy and enthusiasm to help her community.

“She just wanted to do the right thing all the time,” said JP Jameson, a school clinical psychologist in North Carolina who became a colleague and close friend of Frank with CALM (Counseling on Access to Lethal Means) America, which aims to reduce suicides by gun. “It didn’t matter if it was reading to kids or working in the bakery or if it was suicide prevention. If it was the right thing, she would devote her energy to it. She was driven locally and nationally to do the right thing.”

Frank, who died after a brief battle with cancer at her home in North Newport on Sept. 18, 2023, had an impact nationally as a co-founder of CALM America and the Gun Shop project of the New Hampshire Firearms Safety Coalition. Both programs sought to bring people in the gun community together with those in mental health and medical community with the overarching goal of reducing suicides by gun.

“Elaine was a global thinker but also a local doer,” said her friend and North Newport neighbor, Kathryn Baird. “When an issue came up like homelessness or hunger or there was a tragic event, Elaine was the one who could mobilize the forces. She was one of the brightest people I have known and also one of the most compassionate; devoted to her family, her community and the underserved.”

Frank was born on Long Island and grew up in Brookline, Mass. She earned her undergraduate degree at Rice University in Houston, obtained a master’s degree while living in Washington, D.C., and then came to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon as program director for the Injury Prevention Center for 15 years. Moving to Newport put her near her father, who lived in Lempster, N.H., at the time.

“Her father, when he retired, became involved in a lot of things,” Frank’s son, Joe, said. “She had a similar mentality. She got involved in her community because it made her feel happy and fulfilled. She really liked being part of something.”

Frank, who was part of a group in the early 1990s handing out free car seats for infants, broke some new ground when she worked to bridge the divide between gun rights advocates and the medical community.

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Ralph Demicco, now retired, first met Frank about 30 years ago when she “cold called” him about working with her on a firearms safety project, which became the N.H. Firearms Safety Coalition. At the time he owned a gun shop in Concord

“I said yes but was surprised someone in the health care field suggested that,” Demicco said. “Historically, people in the medical community and people in the firearms community have never had any discourse whatsoever that I know of.”

It was a successful project, Demicco said, because it remained neutral on the politics of the issue.

Frank and Demicco stayed in touch periodically, and around 2008 Demicco said she called him to ask if he knew there were three unrelated suicides within six days by people who bought guns at his store.

Frank then suggested a firearms safety project for gun dealers. Demicco, somewhat stunned by what Frank told him, thought it was an “excellent” idea and The Gun Shop project, under the auspices of the N.H. Firearms Safety Coalition, was born.

The project focuses on ways to limit access to firearms with those who are potentially in danger of taking their lives. It seeks to educate gun sellers about the signs of suicide and encourages them not to make a sale if they think someone is struggling.

“It took off. It went national,” Demicco said. “Texas picked it up. Maryland, Arizona, Nevada, Michigan. We were all over the country doing symposiums before huge audiences interested in suicide prevention from the aspect of firearms purchase point.”

They made the case before audiences to start a discourse between the mental health community and firearms community about “how the heck can we save lives,” Demicco said. “It was absolute magic.”

Where others wouldn’t tread for fear of confrontation, Frank knew how to bring all viewpoints together for productive dialogue.

“I can’t tell you how her demeanor made this all happen,” Demicco said. “She was one of the most sincere people that I have ever worked with. I had nothing but high regard and respect for her. She had her beliefs about firearms — she did not particularly like them — but never took a position that was opposite of the firearm people in the coalition, and she was an excellent organizer.”

Cathy Barber, senior researcher at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, worked with Frank to start CALM America in the early 2000s.

“People in suicide prevention weren’t talking about guns, and people advocating for gun rights weren’t talking about suicide,” Barber said. “People in the injury prevention field were trying to figure out how do we get clinicians and suicide prevention groups and gun owner groups talking about this.”

They formed CALM to reach a broader audience after seeing a training video at a mental health conference in Massachusetts that offered instruction to clinicians about gun safety and securing guns in a home.

Frank’s work with CALM, the Firearms Safety Coalition and the Gun Shop Project had a “national impact,” Barber said.

“She was this incredibly warm person, and everywhere she went to do CALM training a program would spring up,” Barber said. “When we went to a conference, suddenly someone she just met would be a best friend. There was just this kindness about her that everybody would respond to.”

Barber called Frank her “moral compass.”

“She had an unerring instinct for connecting with the goodness in people, regardless of their politics and background,” Barber said. “This doesn’t mean she was a Pollyanna. She would pick up on who wasn’t trustworthy. But no one could pull a group together like Elaine.”

Kindness was a theme throughout Frank’s work.

Frank’s “Be Kind” buttons, which people still wear, were her response to a divisive time nationally and locally, though no one could recall the exact circumstances.

“If there was something that riled people up, Elaine could bring the temperature down,” Frank’s neighbor Baird said, adding that Frank always carried a pocket full of buttons to hand out.

Charen Urban, a retired Newport teacher and longtime friend of Frank, was a peer outreach advisor at Newport Middle High School in the early 1990s and met Frank through training around suicide prevention. Several years ago, Urban began Got Lunch, a program that delivers meals to food-insecure families in Newport during school vacations and summer. Frank was on the board and served as a delivery driver.

“It is remarkable,” Urban said, recalling Frank’s work. “She and her partner, both in their 70s, would deliver to about 12 families 40-pound boxes of food.”

Urban said Frank was the group’s “milk maid,” picking up 25 gallons of milk and 70 half-gallons of milk at Shaw’s supermarket on delivery day, bringing them to the South Congregational Church and then helping to pack up everything for deliveries.

“She put in a lot of effort and brought a lot of caring to the program,” Urban, who was also a library trustee with Frank.

Frank possessed a unique awareness of when someone might need a little help without being intrusive, such as gift cards to help a family on her Got Lunch route that was dealing with a loss, Urban said.

“Her thinking was if there was a small thing that makes a difference to a person, just do it,” Urban said.

In addition to her work with the Got Lunch program, Frank also helped with free community meals at the Sunshine Diner, free monthly community meals at the Church of Epiphany and, for more than 10 years, Frank would spend a couple of Saturdays a month in the attic of the Richards Library helping price books for the annual book sale.

Former Richard Library Director Andrea Thorpe recited a long list of advisory boards Frank served on in Newport, including as president of the Friends of the Library and as a library trustee when she provided her invaluable knowledge in grant writing during a library renovation in 2006.

In January, the library agreed to honor its volunteers with the annual Elaine Frank Award. Frank was on the “We Love Books” team for weekly trivia contests and was the team’s expert on all things French and cooking, Thorpe said.

“She had so much energy and a wonderful smile,” said Thorpe, who was the Richards Library Director for 33 years and came to Newport about the same time as Frank, her husband Steve and son Joe, around 1990.

Frank served on the board of the Road to Independence, started by Margaret Coulter 12 years ago, and also volunteered. The program assisted people with differing abilities and began at a farm with donkeys in Goshen and later opened Aurora Bakery on Main Street in Newport, which later closed following Frank’s death.

“She brought an amazing skill set with her as a grant writer and an amazing people person who was enthusiastic about everything,” Coulter said.

One year, Frank came up with the idea to have the bakery put together gingerbread house kits and deliver them to Got Lunch families, knowing how many children were at each home.

“I think she had a real empathy for people with disadvantages,” Urban said. “She could be very discerning and knew when a little extra might help.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.