Wayne T. Franke never forgets a birthday.
For 15 years, the contract lobbyist, 61, has been calling everyone he knows — including many current and former Texas lawmakers — for their birthdays and wedding anniversaries. He makes the calls the weekend before the occasions while he gets his exercise, pacing back and forth from his driveway to the stop sign at the end of his street in Buda.
As old-fashioned as the routine may seem, many in Texas’ fast-paced political world appreciate the throwback to pre-internet days. And for legislators and lobbyists whose lives are dominated by their high-profile jobs, it is a reminder that they are still just friends to some people.
The calls began in 1997 with Ken Waters, a friend and co-worker of Franke’s at GTE Corporation, where Franke was a director of government affairs. Franke asked Waters for the date of his birthday, and his friend jokingly asked if he should expect an e-card.
“I said, ‘No, I’m going to call you at 6:30 in the morning,’” Franke said. “And I got to thinking, and I thought that would be a great way to stay in touch with people.”
Neighbors did not immediately understand Franke’s habit, and neither did his wife, Regina Franke. She said he would walk down the street wearing, much to her chagrin, a cowboy hat and a raggedy T-shirt with his pants tucked into his boots, or an old warm-up suit, mismatched socks and a hat with a ball on top that bobbed as he walked. At first, neighbors wondered why Franke paced for hours every weekend. They began to understand when he started calling them. Even Regina gets birthday and anniversary calls.
She did not understand how important her husband’s phone calls were to people until she spoke with some of those who received them.
“People would make it a point to come up to me and say, ‘I just want you to know how much Wayne’s birthday calls and anniversary calls mean to me,’” she said.
Since Franke started his calls, about 170 people on his list have died. But that does not stop a call from being made; he simply reaches out to their spouse, child, or another family member or friend.
“When somebody passes away, they don’t leave out of here,” Franke said, pointing to an electronic organizer he has used to store the list of 2,937 birthdays and anniversaries he has compiled.
While Franke stores his dates digitally and uses an iPhone, he would never e-mail or text a birthday or anniversary message. He likes the personal touch of the phone call.
Laura Miller, a former Dallas mayor, and her husband, Steve Wolens, a former state representative, have received calls from Franke for years.
“It’s a sweetness and a thoughtfulness that is long gone for most people,” Miller said.
The current and former lawmakers on Franke’s list are just friends in his eyes. And he does not plan to stop calling them — or anyone else on his list — anytime soon.
“If you don’t hear from me, check the obituaries,” he said.