The Rev. Francis “Frank” Hartley Geer, 75, who served as rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Garrison for 30 years until his retirement in 2018, died July 19 at his home in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
He was born on March 19, 1948, in Honolulu, the son of Francis and Miriam (Lewis) Geer. He was raised in Manhattan with his brothers, Lew, Bob and Bill, and spent many summers with his family on Fishers Island, on the New Jersey shore and at the Ginger Quill Ranch in Colorado. Geer graduated from Rutgers University in 1970.
In January 1971, after learning his draft number would release him from being sent to fight in Vietnam, he traveled on the Trans-Siberian railroad. After returning to the U.S., he earned a master’s degree in history from Rutgers in 1972 and also met Sarah Davis, a Russian language and literature major, on a beach in New Jersey. They married and moved to California, where Geer earned a master’s degree from Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
In an interview with The Current in 2017, Geer recalled how he came to Garrison. At that time, he was in his fourth year as an assistant pastor at a church with 3,000 congregants. He had earlier completed four years of postgraduate seminary study, four years as a Protestant chaplain at a Roman Catholic hospital and four years at a hospital that specialized in heart transplants. Geer said he was beginning to think that he would never spend more than four years in the same job.
“I made an appointment to see the bishop of New York, and I told him I felt I was ready to be rector of my own church,” he recalled. “He had known me for some time — he had given the permission for me to enter the priesthood — and agreed with me.”
The bishop drew up a list of a dozen parishes in need of a rector. “When he got to St. Philip’s, Garrison, I stopped him and said, ‘That’s a nice church,’ ” Geer recalled. Geer had visited Garrison as a child, coming from his New York City home with a friend whose grandparents lived there, and he remembered it fondly.
He was hired by St. Philip’s in 1987 and during the 1990s also was director of religious services at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospitals in Manhattan. In addition, he served on the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law and the boards of The Hastings Center in Garrison and Hartley House in Hell’s Kitchen. In 2002, after the 9/11 attacks, he and science writer John Horgan collaborated on a book, Where Was God on September 11?
After retiring in 2018, he and Sarah moved to Plymouth. Although he was an avid fisherman, Geer told The Current that what he most looked forward to in retirement was painting. He was hooked after taking watercolor lessons from Garrison painter Don Nice, who was a member of the congregation. “I dream of sitting around on a beautiful afternoon and painting,” Geer said. “I gave my granddaughter a [paint] set, too.”
Geer said of his time as a pastor: “This is more than just a job. You’re a part of people’s lives.”
Along with fishing, Geer loved conversations, board games, poetry, laughing, black cherry jam, the music of Bruce Springsteen and the New York Giants.
Along with his wife, he is survived by his children, Samuel Geer (Christina) of Minneapolis and Phoebe Geer (Matthew Speiser) of Garrison; his grandchildren, Mary, Davis, Nathaniel and Theodore; and his brother, William Geer.
A funeral service will take place on Saturday (Oct. 7) at 10:30 a.m. at St. Philip’s Church, followed by an ash interment in the columbarium. A reception will take place in the parish house.