From Toulon in Southern France to Idyllwild in Southern California, Françoise Frigola has experienced a life just as diverse as the two communities.
Born in the Mediterranean region similar in climate to San Diego, Françoise (pronounced France-wis), when asked why she left, gave a practical answer, “I needed a job.”
She attended college in Marseilles, lived in London for a while and then moved to Paris. There she began a practical career with the Burroughs Corporation where a client was the Finance Ministry of France. She was a researcher in computers.
She improved a finance software program and was offered a position with Burroughs in the United States — Detroit, to be exact. A short time later, the department changed plans to move to Southern California and asked her to come. She agreed and transferred to Irvine in 1974.
“But I made sure I would keep my French,” she said. “I lived in London and after six months of not speaking French, I had major trouble, so I promised myself I would … find ways to keep my French.”
(Françoise started the Idyllwild Francophonie Club more than 13 years ago for herself and other locals who spoke French and did not want to lose the language.)
But Françoise’s practical nature belies a creative side that began with photography and her own darkroom. “I love to experiment,” she said. She worked in color in her darkroom. “It was exciting; I never knew what was going to come up.”
Her first contest entry garnered a gold medal in the Orange County Fair.
Francoise’s fascination with art was her drive, not a college art degree.
She had discovered digital art in 1968 in England. She learned much about composition from an Orange County camera club. And she experimented.
In 1982, she resigned from Burroughs — for the first time — to focus on her art. To try to support herself, she became a computer consultant.
From there, she branched out into acrylic sheets and sculpture. (Visit www. francoisefineartgallery.com)
But by fall of that year, she was nearly broke and went back to Burroughs, taking a position she really enjoyed in both research and artificial intelligence.
“It was the ideal job,” she said, “except that Burroughs kept stopping us and making us restart on a different phase. After about a year, I went to my boss and said, ‘This is it. I’m wasting my time. As interesting as it is, I’m tired.' ”
By that time she had finished her master’s degree in transpersonal psychology with an emphasis on astrology. She used it as a map of a person’s psyche, not to predict a person’s future.
She became a counselor specializing in men’s and women’s sexual abuse.
But in 1991, her life would take a bleak turn. As she was packing up her belongings in the garage after selling her house, a box fell on her head and “my life stopped.” The box, though not heavy, hit in just the right place to cause brain damage. She was unable to work.
After consulting with several doctors, one suggested she move out of the Orange County pollution and in 1993, she came to Idyllwild.
Since first moving here, Françoise has been a force for volunteering in the community. She helped with the booths at Idyllwild Earth Fair.
Unable to offer much physical help to local organizations, she has used her computer skills at the Idyllwild Help Center, the Chamber of Commerce, Spirit Mountain Retreat and the Idyllwild Area Historical Society.
She chose IAHS’ first computer. And in Lynnda Hart’s basement, she helped develop the society’s database system. “It was a very interesting time,” she said. “That is where I learned ‘high five,’ which I didn’t know before … I am proud of the work I did there.”
After joining Mountain Disaster Preparedness, Françoise found her calling with the organization after the 2011 Japanese earthquake when an Asian friend’s niece was trapped in a building and did not survive. Françoise saw a need for an emergency site in case the Hill communities became shut off from the rest of Southern California.
Idyllwildemergency.com was born with the help of Ron Perry and Les Walker. It started with a website and emails, and now, because it uses a satellite terminal, Hill residents may use it to check on the safety of individuals in case of a disaster. “Jim Crandall has been a tremendous help,” she added.
Françoise has been running the site for years, but is backing off now. In March, Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington presented her with a proclamation from Riverside County at a ceremony with many MDP members in attendance at the Idyllwild Library.
Because it was snowing at the time, about two-thirds of the people planning to come didn’t make it, she said.
When asked what she will do with her spare time, Françoise said she retired from MDP because of her health. Not only has she given up her art, but she is selling her possessions.
She is not keeping it a secret that she has normal pressure hydrocephalus and has opted not to have surgery because of the risks. The condition creates cerebrospinal fluid in the brain eventually leading to dementia.
Five years ago, Françoise created the Idyllwild Death Café that meets monthly at Spirit Mountain Retreat. The irony is that she didn’t expect it to be so relevant to her now.
The Death Café is open to every topic, even suicide. Though it sounds like a morbid club, she was surprised that 16 people attended the first meeting. She limits the meeting to 12.
“This has been a very special community to be with.” A video of the library ceremony was made and when she saw it, she said, “My heart was warm.”
“I belong here, which is not an easy thing for me,” said Françoise.
When asked if she will stay here, she said, “Until the last minute.”