The Rev. Frank Geer (1948-2023)

The Rev. Frank Geer at St. Philip’s (Photo by Steve Basch)

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.

Frank Geer soon after he arrived at St. Philip’s (Photo by Liana Minercio)

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.

6 thoughts on “The Rev. Frank Geer (1948-2023)

  1. I was so terribly saddened to learn that Philipstown lost a very valuable asset to its community, as well as a very dear friend, last week. Upon hearing the news, memories came flooding back to me which I feel a need to share.

    Some 50 years ago, my dearest friends, Lester and Sylvia Bergman, purchased 5 acres on East Mountain Road and built a triple-A frame home. I became a weekend visitor and met most of their friends in the East Mountain Road community and later the Philipstown community.

    They were active: Sylvia on the Philipstown Planning Board, Garrison Art Center and director and cast member of the Hand to Mouth Players in what is now the Depot Theater, and on the board of the Butterfield Library. Lester was on the board of the Butterfield Hospital and was the scenic designer and electrical technician at the Depot Theater. Because of their varied activities, their paths crossed Rev. Frank Geer several times, and they became very good friends. Actually, I think everyone who met Rev. Geer became an instant friend.

    And that’s how I met Rev. Frank Geer. Then suddenly Sylvia, just 70, dearest, best friend, died in the middle of art class. At this time, I had a home in Cold Spring.

    We were beyond devastated, but among plans never considered, was how to arrange funeral arrangements for Sylvia, who was Jewish. There was no Jewish institution in Philipstown, never mind a rabbi who could officiate or counsel her family.

    Rev. Geer contacted us and offered to officiate. Lester and I thought, since we were friends, there could be no better person to help us honor Sylvia. Some of our Jewish friends were distressed that Sylvia’s funeral was to be conducted by a rector. They needed much coaxing to enter the venue. Rev. Geer conducted a very beautiful service, some of it in Hebrew, and delivered a lovely eulogy at St. Mary’s Church in the Highlands in Cold Spring.

    Lester died three years later. His service was held in the North Highlands Firehouse.

    My husband and I agreed that for the Jewish people living in the community, something needed to happen to provide essential religious service. Then, we saw Roberta Shayo’s and Joe Barbero’s ad in the local paper asking for interest in forming a local Jewish congregation. They had also been frustrated, “wishing there was some place to go where we could be comfortable.” Theirs was a mixed marriage. A large group met at Butterfield Library also looking to form a congregation.

    The Philipstown Reform Synagogue officially formed in 2002, as an inclusive congregation. Rev. Geer immediately contacted the congregation and offered St. Philip’s Church in Garrison as the venue for Shabbat, High Holy Day and other holiday services, and other events. The congregation was warmed by the offer and in fact, did hold services at St. Philip’s Parish Hall with Rev. Geer, always in the spirit, attending most of the services and events.

    The two congregations interacted and celebrated all holidays together. St. Philip’s Church, always popular, became ever more popular under the leadership of Rev. Geer. The Parish Hall was busy with social activities, classes and programs. It became increasingly difficulty for the synagogue to dovetail its schedule with St. Philip’s. Thus, the Philipstown Reform Synagogue opted to relocate their service venue to St. Mary’s, where it is still holding services today, under the leadership of Rabbi Helaine Ettinger and with the wonderful support of Rev. Steve Shunk and the very warm church congregation.

    I will always recall how hurt Rev. Geer was on the decision to relocate. At every meeting, I would remind him that the Philipstown Reform Synagogue would never forget how he paved the way for integrating the PRS community into the Philipstown community and how he encouraged other Christian churches to band together to welcome us into their venues. To this day, PRS, works the religious community on various programs, and projects such as preparing meals for Thanksgiving and at other times, the food insecure.

    On behalf of the Philipstown Reform Synagogue of which I am now vice president, my husband Henry and I, dear Rev. Frank Geer, thank you so much for your intervention, your interest and enthusiasm for our culture. We will always remember those wonderful, warm days at St. Philip’s in Garrison.

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