By Catherine Wallace
Fran Hudson, who helped students navigate their network accounts, who calmed faculty when their computers crashed, and who warned the campus community as a whole NOT to click on that email, died Oct. 16, five days after suffering a stroke at her desk at Whatcom Community College. She was 66.
More than 150 people gathered Nov. 10 in Heiner Theater to celebrate Fran, who ran the computer helpdesk at Whatcom for 16 years. Friends and family told stories of their mother, neighbor, wife, and sister-in-law who loved deeply, helped selflessly, and enjoyed a good party.
Noma Hudson, Fran’s sister-in-law; Dayton, a family friend; Kate and Emily, Fran’s daughters; and Mike, Fran’s husband, who spoke at the memorial.
Coworkers remembered Fran’s kindness when they called in crisis and thought they were the only ones who couldn’t figure out their computers. A common theme when people spoke of her was Fran’s helpfulness and patience—extreme patience.
Fran began her career as a part-time employee at the Whatcom help desk in 2002. In her job, she prioritized every service request that came in to the IT department via phone, email, and in-person at her office downstairs in the lab in Heiner Center. She coordinated the help staff to respond to calls from all over campus—often from people “who were downright mad”—and frequently worked 10 to 12 hours a day.
Whatcom President Kathi Hiyane-Brown recalled Fran’s unflappable nature and kind voice at the other end of the phone.
“Fran was always there, and always, always, calm and collected,” Hiyane-Brown said. “She was polite and courteous. Even when we would panic and get frustrated, she would say in her reassuring way, ‘You know, things happen.’”
Every faculty member who was hired at Whatcom met with Fran to be set up in the Whatcom system. “She knew everyone’s name,” Hiyane-Brown said, “and everyone’s password.”
Hiyane-Brown also said it was her honor to present Fran with the Classified Staff Award for Excellence in 2015, commenting that the award came from nominations from staff, coworkers, and students who recognized Fran’s devotion to the Whatcom community.
“She was humble and she was generous. She was sympathetic and she brought grace to whatever she did,” Hiyane-Brown said. “I wish we had many more Frans.”
Fran was also part of the Self Learning Commons design committee and was looking forward to occupying the office at the new student technology center and help desk, Hiyane-Brown said, adding, “We will miss hearing you at the other end of the phone saying, ‘Just reboot.’”
Colleagues and coworkers gathered in the Heiner Theater on a sunny Saturday morning to learn more about who Fran Hudson was when she was not at Whatcom addressing their technology needs.
Family photos cycling through on the big screen in the nearly full auditorium showed a loving mother, a joyous sister, a demure high school graduate, a beautiful bride, and a happy traveler. In many of the photos, Fran was seen laughing and smiling, or hugging and holding loved ones, including pets.
She loved to travel, and for her 40th wedding anniversary in May, she and husband Mike went to Costa Rica with their two daughters, Kate and Emily, and their partners. A photo of Fran with a parrot on her shoulder was a favorite of the family’s.
Fran’s sister-in-law Noma Hudson remembered as a preteen admiring the girlfriend of her older brother for her “glamorous job at the drive-in snack bar” and her “less glamorous job working at a hospital.” Fran was always in the helping professions, and Noma Hudson said she considers, “‘do you want fries with that?’ working in a helping profession.”
She recalled with an open heart Fran’s kindness when, in her early 30s, Noma suffered a trauma. Fran and her family were living in Michigan at the time and Noma, who lives in Longview, said she knew where she wanted to be for Christmas.
“I knew that with Fran, I could begin to heal and that she would welcome me, give me the peace I needed and also that support,” she said.
But with an equal measure of humor, she recounted many more stories of Fran as generous and fun-loving.
When Fran was hired at the help desk at Whatcom, Noma said it was the perfect job for her because, not only did she “have a great attention to detail and a steady personality, but she could ask, ‘Is it plugged in? Is it turned on? Have you rebooted it?’ in such a way that the person on the other end wouldn’t feel like an idiot … unless she needed them to.”
“Fran loved my big brother Mike,” she said. They were friends for years before they began to date and then marry in 1978. Then the girls came and their family was complete, she said. When the girls were young, they moved to the Midwest and lived there for eight years, in Michigan and then Wisconsin for a year, before returning to the Pacific Northwest and settling in Bellingham, she said.
“Fran was very outgoing, but also fairly closed,” Noma said. “I don’t know if she was an ‘extroverted introvert’ or ‘introverted extrovert.’”
Fran loved to entertain, especially with extended family, her daughters, and their friends.
“Fran made her house a home; it was filled with the things she loved—family treasures, plants, and the decorations that she so loved to buy,” she said. Fran was known for her “epic Santa collection,” and in later years, “she started adding snowmen.”
Fran’s laugh was infectious, Noma said. She loved the Food Network and HGTV. She even became enamored with the idea of a tiny house, to which Noma smiled and said, “her Santa collection alone would not fit in a tiny house.”
When Noma got the call that Fran was in the hospital, she made the painful trip to be with the family the next day. However, she said she noted with a smile that “every room in the house was already decorated for Halloween. Every room.”
Noma also recalled how much Fran loved a campfire, and even when it was “raining sideways,” Fran would stay out and enjoy it anyway. She shared Fran’s delight when Noma taught her how to “dip her marshmallows in Grand Marnier before roasting. … And then we spent an entire evening dipping marshmallows in most any other alcohol we could find because we ran out of Grand Marnier.”
She said she loved “Fran’s sense of fun” and firmly believed she would want everyone to celebrate life and party today.
“And guys,” she said, addressing the family, “she is going to haunt us for some of these pictures up there.”
Noma Hudson’s tribute elicited many welcomed bursts of laughter, but also moments of reflection.
“I don’t have a biological sister, but for the past 40-plus years, I felt like I did.”
Ward Naf, Fran’s supervisor and director of Information Technology at Whatcom, was with Fran when she collapsed at her desk on Oct. 11. He remained with her and kept her comfortable until paramedics arrived. He then stayed at the hospital until her family arrived, because he said he felt “he owed it to his great friend” to be there for her. “It was my honor and duty.”
Naf said Fran was the IT department’s connection to the campus. She often came in early to open the student computer lab and stayed late to make sure faculty had what they needed.
“She was the great, grand multitasker, therapist, and problem-solver,” he said. “She triaged support for the 12 of us in the IT office along with six to eight employees who worked for her at the student help desk.”
Whenever she found a problem, she would just solve it, which he said is making updating her job description difficult.
Personally, Naf said, Fran was someone who could calm him and “talk him off the proverbial ledge.”
“Our families were intertwined for over a decade,” Naf said, wiping away tears. “Her husband and my wife worked together and her daughter Emily would babysit our kids.”
The day she had her stroke, Naf was by her side. He said he has no doubt that Fran would have done the same “for many of us here today in this room.”
“We are all hurting, feeling pain and anguish,” he said. “She was a special person who will be missed by all of us.”
Fran and Mike’s neighbor of 20 years, Brian Lydiard, who also coordinated the service, recalled that Fran was easy to be around and remembered how much she enjoyed being at home sitting on the back deck with its propane fire pit.
“A bottle of white wine, or some limoncello, a few snacks, and a friend or two made for a good time for Fran,” he said. On that same deck, he added, she would have dinner with Mike and they would just enjoy each other’s company nearly every summer night.
Fran’s oldest daughter Kate fondly recalled coming to visit from Seattle, her mother’s house perfectly decorated, warm, and with pizza cooking in the oven, as was their Friday tradition.
“She meets me with a hug and a kiss and I know I’m home,” she said. “She would then ask, ‘How was your drive? Wanna drink?’”
Their connection was close, which, Kate said, is why she never moved too far away.
“Mom was where I felt the safest. Her voice would calm me down and her hugs protected me,” Kate said, promising to continue to keep the family close and connected.
“I know Mom would want us to be strong and continue on with our family traditions like holiday decorating,” and every day “we will bring mom’s spirit with us with everything we do.”
Daughter Emily, who is five years younger than Kate, said, “true to form, I have not prepared anything.” However, through tears, she said she couldn’t add much more to what others had said, except that “Mom had the biggest heart for everyone she ever met.”
Emily’s best friend Dayton called Fran “Mom No. 2” and wept for the woman who always welcomed her as part of the family, even when she and Emily “snuck out of the house and she threatened to send me back to Wisconsin.”
Fran’s husband Mike, who clarified that Fran was born “Fran, not Frances or Francine,” added levity to the tributes by remarking that their “grandchildren” were of the furry, four-legged variety, because “some people weren’t doing their jobs.”
He said he and Fran watched “an inordinate amount” of home and garden shows together, because, after a long day of solving people’s problems, she just wanted to relax with some of her favorite characters “like the Pioneer Woman and the Property Brothers, who did not seem to have any problems.”
He said Fran did not tolerate problems.
“She either found a way around to a solution, or ‘rebooted’—which is how she solved a lot of problems,” he said. “I don’t know how I lasted so long, she had several opportunities to ‘reboot’ that. Fortunately for me, she didn’t.”
Fran and her husband, Mike.
Fran Hudson was born Fran Kaiser in Longview, Washington, on March 31, 1952. She graduated from Mark Morris High School and attended Lower Columbia Community College where she got a certificate in the school’s hospital ward clerk program. After graduation, she worked as a ward clerk in the emergency department at St. John’s hospital in Longview.
In 1971, she met Mike through a mutual friend, and after seven years of friendship and courtship, they married in 1978. Kate was born in 1979 and Emily in 1985.
When the family lived in Michigan in the early 1990s, Fran worked as a marketing representative for a local company and also helped design an information referral service for the United Way of Southwest Michigan.
The family then lived in Wisconsin for a year before returning to Bellingham, where Fran called home for the past 22 years.
Fran is survived by her husband of 40 years, Mike; daughter Kate and her partner Brian Hale; daughter Emily and her partner Dan Derr; and her younger sister, Sheri Barr.
Remembrances may be sent to the Whatcom Hospice Foundation or Whatcom Community College Foundation.