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Francis(Frank) Stewart Rotchford

9/21/1901 - 8/1/71


The following was written by James K. Rotchford 1999


Dad was born the 12th child of a family of 13 on 9/21/1901 near Spokane, WA and died 8/1/71 in Olympia WA. Effectively they were a family of 11 because an older sister died at 2 months of age and Frank (Francis Stewart) had an older brother with the same name who died at age 2. Dad was baptized and raised Catholic. Indeed, as far as I know both sides of our family were Catholic as far back as we have records. During most of his early life he basically worked on the farm. Later in life he often expressed gratitude for no longer having to be responsible for the care of a farm. It was apparently hard work and although he seemed to like animals he wasn’t fond of the responsibilities that came with caring for them. He had inguinal hernia surgery in later life and he attributed this to lifting bales of hay during the summer breaks. He went off to become a Jesuit at Marquette University at I don’t know what age. Within six months of being ordained he left the order. The explanation he gave me was “They lacked charity”.

Uncle Herb told me that dad was quite a womanizer after leaving the order. I never got any details but from dad’s side of things he always talked about these times as difficult. Apparently the depression had hit and he a hard time making ends meet. I know he held many a menial job during that time including dishwasher. He tried to get admitted to medical school but he told me the Jesuits interfered because of him leaving the order. He went to Dental school and immediately settled in Olympia to be near his brother Ted. It probably was around 1934 when he came to Olympia, he lived with his brother and shortly thereafter married mom (Catherine Alice McDonoughy). Mary Kay was born in 1937.

Dad was relatively handsome with dark hair and blue eyes about 6 feet tall and about 180 lbs his entire life. He loved pheasant hunting and in his younger years would often taken extensive visits up to Alaska to go salmon fishing. In his early forties he took up golf and although he enjoyed the game, and often was on the course every Wednesday afternoon, it wasn’t a passion for him and he never excelled at the game.

Some of my earliest memories of dad were his taking movie pictures of the family or sitting at the lunch table peeling a delicious apple. He loved wild blackberry jam and would often pile it on his toast at breakfast as well as at other meals. Except at Christmas or otherwise I rarely saw dad eating candy but he did like his jam and mom’s homemade pies. Because I was the youngest I benefitted from some of the financial security of their later years. I would often travel with them to Palm Springs for the month or two vacation each year. Dad taught me to swim and almost always he was ready to kid around some...I remember when my friend Kevin and I would see him walking up the alley we would run out (after hiding) and yell out “bad man up the chimney” and dad would come running after us in a playful fashion. He also wouldn’t hesitate to wrestle a little with me..taking my head in his arms and giving a Dutch rub..”just on the sake of general principles ”

Dad liked to read and I have many memories of him reading the evening newspaper or the reader’s digest. He was always supportive of our involvement in church activities and took an active part in family rosary time. He often, perhaps, once every year or so would take a “men’s retreat”. Although in his later years you could sometimes catch dad snoozing in church there was never any doubt about his strong faith and pride in being a Catholic. He was active in Church boy scout troop and was a member of the Knights of Columbus. He also was an Elk. Loved to play golf up at the Elks in Tacoma and it was there we would often join him to go for a swim naked in the old club.

I don’t remember dad showing many emotions except an occasional severe outburst of anger. These bouts of anger became less as he grew older and I only witnessed one or two growing up. Dad also could laugh and once he got going it was hard to stop and his laugh was rather contagious. I don’t ever recall seeing dad cry. Perhaps his eyes got a little moist the first time I saw him after his serious car accident in his late sixties.

Growing up I always felt loved and accepted by dad. He wasn’t a dad to get overly involved in my affairs...he occasionally came to a baseball game or the like, talk a little about grades but basically showed a distant concern. He had stopped drinking much alcohol by the time I was about twelve. Before then he would often have a high ball before dinner. Apparently in his thirties he had almost got addicted to sleeping medications and I think he was a smoker well into his forties. (He stopped apparently because it interfered with him effectively seeing patients.)

The dad I knew was apparently quite different from the dad my older brothers and sisters knew. He was almost fifty when I was born and had mellowed out quite a bit. When Dad and Mom were in Europe I took the Ford Taunus out for a little spin in the country with my buddies. We wrecked the car and this was even before I had a driver’s license. When Dad came home...I was scared of what he might do...but we just walked out to the car...he took a look...and said he was happy I wasn’t hurt and if the crashes stopped there he would be delighted because...he started to recount all of the car wrecks my older brothers and sisters had been in.

Dad trusted people for the large part. I remember him picking up a black hitchhiker once down in Palm Springs and inviting him for a meal. More than once, mom had to put someone up that dad “brought” home. I also don’t remember dad speaking poorly of others...he wasn’t one to gossip. He was a “Republican” and a Barry Goldwater fan and sure did like his fancy 98 Oldsmobiles. Dad also liked to dress well and he had good taste in this regard. It wasn’t unusual for him to be the most dressed up at a family reunion or other outing. His good friend Al Egler would have custom made embroidered shirts for him. And dad commonly wore cuff links to work. He was always well groomed and seemed taken by technology....he adapted early to the electric shaver and routinely applied Mennen aftershave. Although I think of him as a loner with only a few close friends, he was the President of Washington Dental Society for a number of years. He also was an excellent dentist...technically and with putting people at ease. A number of former patients of his have over the years spontaneously told me what a good dentist he was ...or that the dentures he made lasted thirty years! To this day it amazes me the financial resources we had given that almost all of dad’s money came from work he did with his hands. He invested very little in the stock market and owned very little property aside from the duplexes which really didn’t earn that much money.

From a health standpoint he was blessed. He had sinus problems in his forties which required surgery, he had an inguinal hernia, has some low back problems in his fifties, and he died from a massive heart attack at the age of 69. I don’t believe he was on any medication when he died. The previous year he had been in a serious car accident. His ribs had been broken and the heart contused...The sparkle in his eyes was never the same after that.

I think of my dad as a generous man. He always gave generously to the Church, to St. Martin’s college, and to someone in need. With his children he was also quite generous, whether with clothes, cars, trips, education or the like. If I were to speak of one fault it would probably be the lack of emotional maturity. I remember dad often saying...I want some peace around here...if something was emotionally charged he just didn’t want to hear about it or discuss it. I think dealing with Shannon’s depression/mental illness was very awkward for dad. He also expected quite a bit from Mom in terms of support at home. I can’t imagine how he got away with trying to make the whole neighborhood quiet during his afternoon nap time...I think he left this up to mom. On the other hand he was considerate...Always used a match after pooping...but I must admit he didn’t think much about peeing into the sink.

The happiest I remember my dad being was during a Christmas party when all kinds of family, friends and neighbors came to celebrate. The unhappiest I remember my dad being was when things didn’t work out with his brother Herb working with him.

Another habit of dad which was rather striking was his taking an evening walk. We could often join him for this walk and often it was a good half hour or so in length...down through the capitol grounds or up as far as Lincoln school. Dad also was comfortable with his body...I don’t remember him having any shame about being naked and I think dad would have been comfortable in a nudist colony if that sort of thing had been around and okay for a Catholic to do.

Dad was also honest, dependable, and I think quite responsible...I don’t remember ever hearing him lie or try and get out of an obligation. I think he cheated some on his taxes but otherwise I think he was a straight shooter. I think that most would agree he was a good Christian man. What is more, based on his Jesuit background I think he had a knack for not getting too caught up in the details but keeping the larger picture in view. If he had any significant prejudices he did a pretty good job of not making them overt. Overall he was a tolerant man but he also taught me what it was to have righteous indignation. Somehow he communicated that we were something “special”. Like most things passed down from one generation to the next this “something special attitude” most likely had both positive and negative effects.

His actual death was fairly abrupt. The story was that shortly after making love with mom he developed chest pain. Went to the hospital, was alert, but died within a couple of hours..most likely from an arrhythmia secondary to a myocardial infarction. It was just before the time of major advances in “cardiac units”.