A few times in a lifetime, you come across someone so special, so accomplished, so inspiring that no matter how educated or self-focused you are, you just have to say: Wow….
That was Joanna Franklin.
I first met her in 1996 when I joined a hand full of aspiring counselors in the quest to pioneer gambling treatment in the state of Missouri. Here I was, fresh out of my master’s program and feeling like I knew a lot more than I did, when this graceful, soft-spoken woman with black hair down past her waist started teaching me about gamblers.
At that point, I had only a passing interest in the disorder. The passion hadn’t yet set in. A former prosecutor, I had been intrigued and sometimes saddened by the fact that people who embezzled large amounts of money because of a gambling went straight to prison — even if they were a 65-year-old grandma who’d never had a parking ticket — because they couldn’t make restitution and the justice system viewed gambling merely as a “vice” of the self-indulgent. As an addiction counselor, I sampled a lot of vices: drugs, alcohol, shopping, grown-ups dressed as babies… But nothing came close to disordered gamblers. Pulled toward destruction by their own misperceptions, they were more dangerous than any addict on crack. They accomplished monumental damage to their families in record time, secretly losing the house, the car, and their kids education in a matter of weeks or months.
So there I was, trying to learn more about this strange addiction. And there was Joanna Franklin, so engaging, filled with stories and wonder and reverence for the people she treated. Gentle yet firm, seemingly tireless in her four day presentations of everything from biology to criminality. Ever the former prosecutor, I cross-examined her with vigor, challenging her assumptions and conclusions. She was always gracious. She always had the answer. I came to admire her more than most anyone who’s ever tried to teach me anything.
Years later, when I’d treated a lot of gamblers and had turned my focus to academia and research, she was always the one I turned to for information or advice on the most interesting addiction there is. She always helped with a smile. The last time we had dinner in May, I was quizzing her about the proposal that distinguished Maryland as a model state in the prevention and treatment of problem gambling. I wanted to do the same in New Jersey. She immediately offered her help. And she followed through, providing me with documentation that I will someday use to bring the same responsible framework to my state.
Now she’s gone. And there’s a hole in my heart. I emailed my friend Lori Rugle and we reminisced about a weekend the women gambling researchers all spent together years ago in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware. It was organized in large part by Joanna. Lots of fun, all of us crammed in an old house together. Late one night, I looked out my window and saw that men were filming an “adult” movie in the house next door. Ever the scientist, I roused my fellow investigators and some came and we gawked (not that I’m proud of any of this). Joanna looked at us with a half-amused, wry smile and shook her head as if to say, “Children, children…” Then she went to bed. Even at my age, she was still wise and wonderful. I miss her terribly. And so does everyone she touched. I’m only glad she lived to see gambling officially recognized as an addiction and her home state taking it seriously.