Fran Memberg, as a member of the editorial staff of the Atlanta Jewish Times, was one of the first people I met when I moved to Atlanta to work for this newspaper in 2005, and more than a decade later, I can admit that I underestimated her.
It was easy enough to do. After all, Fran was not a large person — she looked like a pixie’s Jewish mother — and she was quiet and not prone to assert herself.
She was also the backbone of the Jewish Times.
As community editor, Fran handled the most important items in the paper. Our readers differ on what they like to read in the news and opinion sections and whether they care about arts, business, sports and other areas. But almost everyone turns to the simchas and looks through the event calendar, and those sections constituted Fran’s domain.
Not coincidentally, those are also the two areas where the AJT of today falls far short of the AJT of 10 years ago. Now, we might have one simcha announcement every couple of weeks; then, we had pages of births, b’nai mitzvah, engagements and weddings each issue, plus the Simcha Spotlight, which I am certain was the most read story every week.
Fran, who managed the flow of announcements at a time when they came in on handwritten forms she had to type up, had a flawless ability to read between the lines to find great human-interest stories and the common sense to recognize that every once in a while she just had to make the best of a relatively dull bunch of celebrations.
Fran had a great nose for the news, and it made the whole paper better. While maintaining an impressive calendar, she picked out — months in advance — the events we needed to cover and those we should preview. She always came to our weekly editorial meetings with a file folder stuffed with story ideas based on calendar items, news she had spotted in other publications or online, or things she had heard in the community. (Fran was amazingly plugged in to Jewish Atlanta for someone who wasn’t from around here.)
It’s no secret that the AJT went through turbulent times the past 15 years. Editors, writers, publishers, ad salespeople, owners and even offices came and went, but Fran was the constant. She held on longer than anyone with a more volatile, less steely disposition could have, and she, as much as anyone, deserves credit for the newspaper’s survival.
When I came back to the AJT, Fran was one of the first people I asked to write for the paper again. I needed her at least as much in January 2015 as I did in August 2005, and although she was frail from a long health battle, she agreed.
Once again, we were fortunate to be graced by her contributions. Each of them — the local angle on the Streit’s factory closing, a kidney donation, Bet Haverim’s purchase of the old Young Israel building, an educational foundation working with hospitalized children, the personal bonds of the Friendship Circle — was special. Few would have appeared in the AJT without Fran to suggest and execute them.
It hurts to write these next words: We won’t see Fran’s byline again. She died Thursday, Jan. 21, succumbing to the disease that had sapped her strength and made her wither in body but not in mind or spirit.
Her loss is greatest, of course, to her husband, Don; her sons, Michael, Matthew and Larry; and her grandchildren, including those yet to be born. But I hope they can take some strength from knowing that in the stories that will go untold, all of us in this community will feel the loss of the nicest person I knew.