Stamford woman who died remembered as prolific writer, understanding therapist: A ‘multifaceted diamond’

STAMFORD — The moment when family and friends of Fran Dorf said their final farewell to the wife, mother, grandmother, writer, therapist and longtime Stamford resident could have been a scene from one of her books or plays.

The sun was setting, said Bob Dorf, her husband of more than four decades, and a fog hung over the cemetery.

“The only way people could pay their respects at the cemetery was lighted by the headlights of a pickup truck. It's as if she wrote it herself,” Dorf said days after the funeral. “It was a Fran Dorf production in a very weird way — very weird but appropriate.”

Fran Dorf died this month after a battle with leukemia. She would have turned 68 on Dec. 27.

In addition to writing novels and stage plays, Fran Dorf penned screenplays, poems and essays. In the past year, she also tried her hand at oil painting.

After the death of their son, Michael, in the 1990s, Fran Dorf earned a Master of Social Work degree and became a licensed clinical social worker with a focus on grief counseling. She had previously earned a master’s degree in psychology.

“I'd say all my major works (novels, plays and screenplays) are about the same thing: Human beings in psychological conflict with their inner demons,” she wrote on one of her personal websites.

Her published novels include “A Reasonable Madness,” “Flight” and “Saving Elijah” — the last of which she had started writing when Michael died at age 3. After their loss, Bob Dorf said his wife helped establish a program for toddlers with special needs at the Stamford JCC.

In his eulogy, Bob Dorf said he referred to his late wife as a “multifaceted diamond.”

That was confirmed at the funeral, he said, as people Fran had known from the Center for Hope in Darien learned about her prolific writing. Meanwhile, people from her theater group learned for the first time about her work as a grief therapist, which was “part of how she healed herself” after losing Michael, Bob Dorf said.

Her small practice was “as much for her as it was for the people she helped,” Dorf said.

Also among Fran’s eulogists was screenwriter Christopher Carlson, with whom she wrote a screenplay for a potential German film based on her first novel, “A Reasonable Madness.”

“My hope is it will go forward, and about a year from now, we'll be able to have a memorial for Fran and … a showing of her film,” Dorf said.

Fran Dorf had begun writing a memoir before her death, and Bob said that their daughter, Rachel Dorf Gotler, plans to finish it.

Rachel, who is a psychologist, and her husband, Ross Gotler, have two children: Maya, 11, and Jacob, 7. Maya has inherited Fran’s love for writing, said Bob Dorf, a writer himself. He is the co-author of “The Startup Owner's Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company.”

Fran, a Philadelphia native, and Bob first met in a bar in New York City. Both were in their 20s, working in public relations at the time, he recalled.

For one of their first dates, they went to “Great Adventure” in New Jersey. He had just gotten a new car — with a vinyl roof on the back and a glass roof on the front. As they were driving through the safari park area toward a section with baboons, they were warned that the animals might eat vinyl tops. Dorf, thinking the new vinyl would be fine, signed a release to continue on into the baboon section.

Moments later, his car was covered with baboons. He turned left and right; sped up and braked, trying to shake the animals off the car.

“Fran, meanwhile, is worried that there is no steel between the vinyl top and the inside of the car and that the baboons are going to be sitting next to us and tearing us apart in moments,” Dorf said.

After assuring Fran that there was steel protecting them, her worry became that the animals were damaging the car. Dorf insisted they weren’t. Fran insisted they were.

“How do you know?” he asked her. She told him to look up. Lo and behold, there was a baboon with a chunk of vinyl in its mouth.

Fran used to lay out the tale at storytelling events, Dorf said.

“Do you think I ever saw that guy again?” she would ask the audience. Bob Dorf would then stand up, and Fran would tell the crowd how long they had been married.

“It was sort of symptomatic of our life together,” Dorf said about the baboon story. “We're always doing crazy stuff.”