Rod Miller: George “Doc” Frison, and Wyoming Heroes and Heroines

Columnist Rod Miller writes: "I want to tip our collective Stetsons to the thinkers that Wyoming has produced, those heroes who invested their sagebrush intellect in answering questions about ourselves, our world, and how we behave in it."

Rod Miller

September 13, 20214 min read

Rod Miller

Let’s talk about Wyoming heroes. And not the jocks, either.

This isn’t about guys with Cowboy street cred who invented the jump-shot, or started for the Packers in Super Bowl I, or pitched a perfect game in the majors. Although that all happened, and very proud of them we all are, this isn’t about the jocks.

Nor are we talking about the titans of business who have Wyoming roots and went on to found a department store chain, or serve as Henry Ford’s confidante and body guard, or own the Lakers and the Forum in L.A. We give them their due, of course, but this isn’t about them.

And I don’t mean Wyoming politicians, either. Maybe they had distinguished careers in Cheyenne, or Congress or the White House but I won’t include them here. If it rankles you that I don’t include the men and women of Wyoming politics as heroes and heroines, then please bear with me.

All of the above are worthy of our attention, but this ain’t about them

I want us to tip our collective Stetsons to the thinkers that Wyoming has produced, those heroes who invested their sagebrush intellect in answering questions about ourselves, our world, and how we behave in it.

We give way too little credit to the brainpower that this state has produced.

Men like W. Edwards Deming, who grew up in Powell, and whose career is internationally celebrated for initiating quality management programs for industry that changed the world of manufacturing.

There’s a very coveted prize, named for Deming, and awarded to the Japanese company that best exemplifies total quality management. Why Japan? Because Deming and his philosophy rebuilt Japan after WWII.

And Dave Love, the Wyoming geologist that John McPhee wrote about in “Rising From the Plains”. In the closing segment of Ken Burns’ documentary, “The West”, Dave’s family’s roots are eloquently described.

Love was the first ever recipient of the “Legendary Geoscientist” award from the American Geological Institute. He located the first uranium discovery in Wyoming in 1951, and knew more about how Wyoming was formed geologically than anyone on the planet.

Add a couple of intellectual heroines to this list. Like Grace Hebard, Wyoming historian, and suffragette who was elected Vice President of the National Society of Women Lawyers. And Lynne Cheney who is a prolific author, and served as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

And finally, George “Doc” Frison who grew up in the rugged Nowood country on the west flank of the Bighorn Mountains. He spent his youth cowboying, hunting and picking up fossils and arrowheads, like so many ranch kids in Wyoming.

In later years, when he settled on a career in archaeology, Doc’s curiosity about the earliest inhabitants of the Cowboy State and how they interacted with their world led him into a life of research that culminated in his being the first and only Wyomingite elected as a Fellow to the National Academy of Science.

Frison became head of the new Department of Anthropology at U.W., and was selected as Wyoming’s first State Archaeologist. Throughout his life, Frison passed along his curiosity and intellectual rigor to a new generation of archaeologists. We know much more about our collective past because of him.

Doc was a close family friend and mentor to my younger brother, Mark, who succeeded him as State Archaeologist. Betty Rose and Frank Miller owe Doc a great debt of gratitude for guiding the younger, smarter brother into a life of academic inquiry, rather than the dissolute path of pool halls and seedy bars that tempted the older, much better looking brother.

Doc Frison’s life and distinguished career will be celebrated in Laramie on September 24 at the Hilton Garden Inn. I think the shindig will go from 3 til 5 p.m. I’m writing this column to let you know about Doc and this event.

It’s high time that we in Wyoming celebrate our fellow citizens who bring attention to our state because of the life of the mind. We need to honor the fact that our heritage is so much more than money, touchdowns or political power.

As Longfellow wrote in “Psalm of Life”

Lives of great men all remind us

we can make our lives sublime

and departing, leave behind us

footprints on the sands of time.

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Rod Miller

Political Columnist