Former Humanities Texas board member Fran Vick provided the following remarks for the Texas Institute of Letters regarding the passing of Francis E. "Ab" Abernethy.
Where in the world does one start to talk about Ab Abernethy? He was so many things to so many different people. He was an SFA [Stephen F. Austin State University] Distinguished Emeritus Regents Professor of English—Shakespeare, folklore, world literature, and much more, teaching Janis Joplin folk music at Lamar in Beaumont along the way; a folklorist—Secretary/Editor of the Texas Folklore Society for thirty-three years, taking over from Dobie, Boatright, Hudson, and becoming a giant among giants in Texas folklore; a musician—playing standup bass in the East Texas String Ensemble and, of late, a guitar-playing soloist of old favorites/jazz; a spelunker, herpetologist, hunter, fisherman, Trailblazer—creating the Lanana and Banita Creek trails in Nacogdoches with his machete; a veteran of World War II, serving with the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific; author of Tales of the Big Thicket, Singin' Texas, three volumes of The History of the Texas Folklore Society, editor of more than two dozen books of the Society—many of them award-winning—plus numerous articles in the Texas Folklore Society Publications. Let the River Run Wild! was his latest book, about the Neches River and Ab's love affair with the river, East Texas, and all of nature.
Last week Ab was honored by the City of Nacogdoches for his work on the trails there. He and his singing group, with the audience joining in, sang "I'll Fly Away" to end the festivities with one of his favorite songs. He was singing with gusto and great joy, as always:
Some bright morning when this life is over, I'll fly away,
To that home on God's celestial shore, I'll fly away.
I'll fly away, oh glory, I'll fly away,
When I die, hallelujah by and by, I'll fly away.
—and then, early last Saturday morning, March 21, 2015, he did just that. He was my mentor, my great friend and supporter, my brother. I will miss him more than I can say, but I am so incredibly grateful he came into my life.