Remembering Frank Karel (1935-2009)
By Larry Meyer, Communications Network Board Chair and President, Meyer Communications LLC
We’re saddened to hear of Frank Karel’s passing Saturday after a long battle with cancer.
For years, Frank has been the singular leader, visionary and ceaseless advocate for communicating the value of philanthropy.
My story is typical.
As a brand-new communications director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation back in 1995, I recall how bewildering … how Alice-through-the-Looking-
All this jargon … “corpus” and “grantees” and “anticipated outcomes” and “say what?” For several months I searched for a like-minded practitioner, someone who could school
me on how to understand and explain grant making, but it was lonely down here in Miami at the tip of the Sunshine State.
I attended my first Council on Foundations annual meeting the next spring in Honolulu, and scanned the schedule seeking reasons to justify the long trip. Walking down the hotel hall
to my first meeting of the Communications Network in Philanthropy, I was met by a big grinning bear of a guy named Frank Karel. He immediately established an alumni connection to The Herald with me (he was The Herald’s first science writer). He swept me into the room, found me a beer and introduced me to my new peer group. The stress level dropped and my
pre-Facebook friend list grew, starting with Frank. I was impressed that a vice president with the gee-whiz Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who’d worked at the National Cancer Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation, was so gregarious, self-effacing and fun – unlike the
self-important crowd so prevalent in this field. Take a hint, people.
In conversation with Frank, you could count on him to challenge a bald assumption with a trademark: “You lie!” (And in the pre-Joe Wilson era, he meant it nicely). He was proud of his work, he loved his spouses and always told you so, and geez, did he love his Gators.
Frank took it on himself to be the center of our labors, and never turned down a request to reconnect, answer a silly question or refer me to good people and good info. More important, he used his platform and reputation to advocate tirelessly for improved and clear communication by foundations for their work and causes. He was a central actor in the creation of the current-day Communications Network, and setting our path. He set a standard for us, and gave our
part of the sector the rationale to ratchet up the investments in staff and resources to do our communications jobs back home better than before.
He was never prouder than when his spouse Betsy endowed a new teaching chair in his honor at the University of Florida, emphasizing public interest in communications. And he was frustrated when the current financial crisis hamstrung the state of Florida in matching the generosity of the $2 million commitment. Our work goes on now without Frank to coax, cheer and lead. But I know he’s got our backs.
Well, that’s my story. What’s yours? Please leave a comment.
Photo credit Frank Karel: Randall Hagadorn