Beautiful Friends, Beautiful Family
photography by Jordan Weiland
Two years ago on a sunny spring day, Tom and Fran Gompf shared marriage vows, joining together their lives and homes following an autumn courtship. They had lives before they found each other, before they met and fell in love. They had lives that were filled with the rich history of family, career, and service to the community. Their story is one of individual hard work and dedication. But their story is also one of faith. A faith confirmed and often tested by loss, pain, heartbreak, and finally hope and renewal.
Born in Memphis, Fran Munson moved a lot as a child. Her father’s job with General Motors carried the family to eight states before Fran ended up as an art major at Florida Southern College. Following college, she stayed in Lakeland and has been here ever since. “I loved Lakeland and knew it would be home,” Fran shared with me recently. “I just felt comfortable with the people and the community.” She became active as a mother, homemaker, and member of the Junior League, devoting her time and energy to her family and their lives. When the children were grown, Fran adjusted to a new life following a painful divorce by taking on the position of executive director of the Community Foundation of Greater Lakeland. She was instrumental in raising millions of dollars for Central Florida charities during her tenure. She then took a leap of faith, followed her creative instincts, and joined forces with a close friend and established what became a very successful interior design business.
But, time and life challenges everyone. Fran survived a battle with cancer, followed by the unimaginable death of her 28-year-old daughter, Suzanne, a graduate of Princeton University and the Medical College of Virginia. Fran was devastated by the loss of daughter but remained steadfast in her faith. She relied heavily on the love, comfort, and support of her family, her church family at All Saints Episcopal Church, and a close circle of friends.
Throughout all of this, Fran maintained a life balanced by family, friends, career, and giving back to the community. Her son John said it best a number of years ago when describing the many roles Fran has taken on in her life. “She has been an award-winning volunteer, a successful entrepreneur, and as executive director of the Community Foundation of Greater Lakeland, amassed an astonishing $47 million in charitable funds in just a few short years. Along with these professional accomplishments, she has also fulfilled several gender-specific positions throughout her lifetime. These include mother, daughter, wife, sister, and girlfriend. Regardless of which function she performs, she does it with the passionate enthusiasm that brings her admirers wherever she goes.”
In addition to these many roles, one of Fran’s most lasting accomplishments has been as a friend. In 1990, her very close friend Beth Traviesa died of cancer. Before her death, Beth’s biggest concern was the needs of her children. She discovered that there were no support groups available to children faced with the loss of a parent and asked her friends to start a support group so her children and others would have a place to talk about their feelings. Fran was among those friends of Beth Traviesa who, in her memory, worked tirelessly to fulfill this request, founding The Bethany Center in Lakeland in 1991. For her contributions to the founding of The Bethany Center, Fran received a Golden Rule award. Tom Gompf ’s daughter, Tracey, introduced Fran to Tom after the death of his wife and young grandson. Tracey knew that Fran had battled cancer and lost a child of her own and thought they would be good for each other. As it turned out, she was right.
Fran beams with pride as she talks about Tom’s many accomplishments. “Tom won the bronze medal in the 1964 Tokyo, Japan, Olympics for the 10-meter platform diving and has been involved in world-class diving and athletics ever since,” she says. In addition to being a medal-winning Olympic athlete, Tom’s athletic accomplishments have spanned a lifetime and include championships in diving and gymnastics in the United States, Japan, Spain, and Canada. He competed in early high-diving events following a successful amateur career, twice winning the World Professional High Diving Championships. Tom was one of the first American divers to perform multiple somersaults off the famous cliffs of Acapulco. He helped form USA Diving as the National Governing Body for diving, served 25 years on the United States Olympic Committee board of directors, serving on various committees charged with hosting of four Olympic Games. As a member and chairman of the International Swimming Federation, he led the formation of the Grand Prix Diving series, revamped and modernized the diving degree of difficulty tables, and wrote the rules and promoted synchronized diving events, which were accepted into the Olympic program in 2000. The U.S. Olympic Committee recognized Tom’s many accomplishments by awarding him one of their highest honors, the George Steinbrenner Sports Leadership Award in 2010. Tom served his country in the United States Air Force and is a retired airline captain of 32 years. He also found the time to take on the challenging position of diving coach at the University of Miami, Florida, from 1971 to 1981 and Olympic coach in 1976.
“I loved the idea of combining our two lives, incorporating pieces of our respective histories in a way that would reflect who we are,” Fran says while describing her life with Tom. During a recent tour of the couple’s gracefully elegant Grasslands home, Fran shared this history and how the couple have combined their separate but somehow intersecting lives. Their new life together is reflected throughout their home. Fran’s design aesthetic includes a love of French Provincial antiques, Chinese Art Deco rugs, and art that she has seamlessly and comfortably joined with the many photographs, acknowledgments, trophies, and awards earned by Tom during a lifetime of contribution, achievement,and accomplishment.
The lives that they had lived and the life that they now share are beautifully and meaningfully represented by a hall gallery of combined photographs of family and loved ones who are important to them individually and together. It is a present and visual reminder of where they have come from, where they are going, and why. Walls covered with the memories of love and loss, faith and deliverance.
I love this wall for many reasons. I love it because it represents the soulful character and inward beauty of the two people who created it together, hand in hand. A wall filled with life and the consequential things Fran and Tom hold dear. But most of all, I love this gallery of photographs because it represents the beautiful and faithful friends who created it by lives well lived.