I share with deep sadness the news that Frank Hess, longtime Special Assistant to recently retired Assemblyman Denny Farrell, passed away on February 20, 2018. A longtime resident of Washington Heights and an astute observer of the political scene around the state, Frank could always be found wearing a jaunty hat and with cigarette in hand. Like Community Board 12 members Obie Bing and Pamela Palanque North who served on a number of boards and former Assemblyman Brian Murtaugh, another piece of uptown’s history and heart is gone. He touched so many. And to some, he was like family.
It’s been said that the real measure of a man is how he treats people, where he stands in moments of controversy, and how he handles power. But - let’s get real. The true measure of a man is in his matzoh ball soup - and Frank made a GREAT matzoh ball soup.
He handed down a recipe that called for about a hundred matzoh balls because his mother cooked for so many. Matzoh balls were planted all over my apartment, including on my desk and one was later found in a shoe. They were a hit and one of my guests - a very picky and opinionated eater - STILL talks about them. And judging from that soup, Frank’s impact is immeasurable. In his honor, I’m going to make them again this year. In fact, COOGAN’S where he and so many of us gather, should add them to their menu.
We all carry a little bit of Frank with us (not just the matzoh balls). He was a real New Yorker, from playing baseball in the streets of Washington Heights where lifelong friendships are made, to driving a cab and schmoozing at the Lion’s Head to having an insider’s look of what the uptown community is and where it’s heading. When we speak of gentrification, the words rezoning and developers often come up. But what of the history of our people?
Frank IS a part of the history of our neighborhood, some of which has been preserved by the New York Public Library’s Oral History Project, Bridging Our Stories. There is Frank, that unmistakable voice and a cough for posterity regaling us with stories about his father, a Holocaust survivor; his brothers, his block on 160th Street in Washington Heights, George Washington High School. And his most significant and profound friendship with Denny Farrell. Denny wears a suit to Frank’s guayabera and cowboy hat, seemingly mismatched but this one is for the ages. And when you have a listen to Frank's oral history, it’s like he's back in the room with us again.
Not long ago, I asked Frank if Denny would be interested in contributing to my short film about a man living with Alzheimer’s. It was a long shot but I figured I would ask. I mean, how many elected officials are sponsors, sometimes known as movie producers, while in office? In the most diplomatic way possible, I’m not even sure that Frank asked Denny. He simply wrote a personal check. How many people do that?
With Frank’s passing, a little bit of goodness of the world has gone, too. Frank said that he often spent time around Thanksgiving with old friends at Coogan’s. But sadly, he noted that every year, people are missing. This year, he will be missed. But, if the owners of Coogan's, Dave and Peter, can hang up one of Frank’s hats with a plaque and serve that matzoh ball soup, we’ll put on the recording and he will be in the room with us again. Almost.
From the New York Public Library's Oral History Project, Bridging Our Stories: MEET FRANK HESS: Born and raised and still living in Washington Heights, Frank Hess is the son of Holocaust survivors from Germany. A political and marketing strategist, he currently serves as Assemblyman Herman "Denny" Farrell's chief of staff. In this conversation, Frank shares his love of the community and its past, present, and future; his favorite Denny Farrell story, and his love of cooking. His delicious matzoh ball recipe (I tried it) is available upon request.
Postscript: Frank's cowboy hat has been donated to Coogan's and the restaurant plans on adding Frank's matzoh ball soup to the menu sometime soon.