Chuck Lief

50 years and 4 months ago, I walked up the driveway at Tail of the Tiger for the first time. Fran Lewis guarded the gateway to the dharma, and the stream of activity which defined my entire adult life. There was no going over, under or around Franny but mostly there was no need. The point of my excursion from Brandeis University, along with Karl Springer, Marty Janowitz and Alan Schwartz was to check out this Tibetan Buddhist Center where later in the summer we planned to meet the Vidyadhara. Even though it would be another 10 weeks or so until Rinpoche and Lady Diana would receive their visas and could leave Montreal for Barnet, the seed had been planted. The often-unheralded Joanne Newman wrote the $50,000 check to lokapala/farmer Joe Patenaude and literally bought the farm. Fran, Kesang Tonma (Tania Leontov) and Kunga Dawa (Richard Arthure) were sent ahead as the first occupying force, preparing the ground. They each had their jobs. Kesang was the corresponding secretary, fielding a growing mountain of cards and letters from want-to-be students seeking time with the Vidyadhara. Kunga was the primary dharma teacher and Shakespearean influenced chant master, offering meditation instruction to all who sought it. And Fran ran the show. She held the checkbook, collected the fees, kept food in the pantry, gas in the cars, maintained the rota, was a force to be reckoned with as she sailed through the shops of St. Johnsbury, never-ever-paying retail, and in general through word and action made clear to all of us that we were embarking on a life-changing journey. She manifested devotion to the teacher and the teachings, delighted in nurturing the space where minds were blown daily, and happily shared the wealth by encouraging us to take full advantage of our proximity to the guru-confident in the depth of her own connection to make room for countless others. The ease with which she related to and cared for the lineage masters such as His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, His Holiness Dilgo Kyentse Rinpoche manifested as if she had many lifetimes of experience. She also understood more quickly than most the importance to Rinpoche and all of us to the connection with other Buddhist lineages made by the Vidyadhara. Fran became close to Kobun Chino Roshi and an important representative of the Vidyadhara to Suzuki Roshi. Her style was her own. When asked by the Vidyadhara to attend an early sesshin at Tassajara as a kind of personal ambassador, Fran was an early student of Rinpoche to learn the oriyoki form of taking meals. But always with a twist. In that case by slipping some chicken bouillon cubes into her meditation robe so she could add it to the rinse water drunk at the end of the oriyoki meal. I am immeasurably grateful to Franny for her more than half century of service to our sangha, her early embrace, and great kindness carried just beneath her tough skin. We owe her a great debt.