NEWPORT, R.I. — With profound sadness we say goodbye to our matriarch, Frannie dear, mom, Maga, Grandma and Gigi, who died at home March 15, 2020 at the age of 101. Reading multiple newspapers and discussing world news every day, doing crossword puzzles and playing bridge with friends kept Fran sharp, until she looked out her bedroom window to the ocean for the final time.
Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Walter Erwin Johnson and Katharine Harlow Johnson, Fran and her younger brother Erwin felt a deep void after their mother’s young death. When her father relocated the family to California, Fran dove into her studies, graduating from Beverly Hills High School in 1936. At a time when few women were pursuing higher education, let alone graduating, she attended UCLA, was president of Delta Gamma sorority and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English in 1940.
Ever the independent woman, Fran was living with her grandmother in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, at the age of 25, when she met her knight in shining armor “on a white horse,” Ensign Albert Keene Sherman, an engineering officer in the US Naval Reserve, in 1942. At a party in Pittsburgh, she thought his quiet charm was cute as he awkwardly taught her how to unfold his Navy cap. Eight months later, Fran became a wartime bride. They moved to Florida, where he was next stationed before being sent to sea on a submarine chaser ship.
After the war, they moved back to Al’s native Aquidneck Island where Fran supported him and his brother, Edward, in the business they inherited from their father, The Newport Daily News. Fran was a loyal and fiercely active member and president of the Board of Directors until 2017 when the company sold.
Upon his retirement in 1980, they wintered in Naples, FL, where they regularly dined at the yacht club and entertained family and friends. They were married 63 wonderful years, until he died in 2006.
During her many decades in Middletown, Fran was an active member of the Newport Garden Club; the Newport Art Museum; the Preservation Society of Newport County; the Newport Historical Society; the Clambake Club of Newport; the Redwood Library; the Mayflower Society; the Junior League of Naples, FL; and the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America.
Fran and Al had three children who survive them; Albert Keene “Buck” Sherman Jr. and his wife Jocelyn of Middletown: Katharine Sherman Zins and her husband Jack of Wayland, Massachusetts: and Bruce Harlow Sherman of Seattle, Washington; a half-sister Ida Mae Johnson of Poultney, Vermont; eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren; nieces and nephews; and great nieces and nephews.
Fran’s memory was one of her most distinct features. She recalled details of sleeping in the top berth while traveling by train overnight to Chicago in the 1920s; exploring Los Angeles in the 1930s; wartime black out shades in 1940s New York City; then luxurious cruises to Bermuda in the 1950s. The next moment, she swiftly ordered birthday gifts for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren with a click of her laptop mouse. As a result of that steel trap brain, she had a knack for recounting family genealogy as if it happened yesterday, and remembered with pride just which ancestors, on both sides, were Mayflower passengers; conversations she had with her beloved grandmother; which buildings her grandfather designed as an architect with McKim, Mead and White; and the Memorial Day parade she attended with “that terrific man Al.”
Her sweet tooth was as much a fixture as her red lipstick and 5 p.m. cocktail on the veranda. What started with her grandmother’s peppermint candies, blossomed into an eternal supply of freshly made snickerdoodle cookies and Hershey bars dominating kitchen drawers. She would always direct grandchildren to her freezer, where they would find ice cream sandwiches or chocolate-covered drumsticks in plentiful supply. Fran’s family made her most proud, and no matter the time of day or her condition, she always welcomed them with a, “Hi dearie,” and a warm “CYK” (consider yourself kissed). She even won pillow fights with her three-year-old great-grandson.
Her passing marks the end of an era for a generation. She was quick to explain and admire the vast cultural growth she had witnessed during the century, from the expansion of ready-to-wear clothing and automobile travel to skyrocketing technology. Her ability to embrace that growth with a positive attitude and sense of humor was admired by all who loved her.
A celebration of her life will be held at a later date. Her burial will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, where Fran had volunteered as a docent at Whitehall Museum House (60 Elm St., Westerly, RI 02891); and Trinity Church, where she was a parishioner (One Queen Anne Square, Newport, RI 02840).