U.S. Navy Officer, FBI Supervisory Special Agent, Husband of 65 Years and Father of Six, Actor, Author, Lecturer, Old Time Radio Authority, Led an Extraordinary Life
Jack Arlis French of Fairfax, Virginia, passed away on April 18, 2023, at the age of 87.
Mr. French was born on April 16, 1936 in Michigan but raised in Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Secondary Education where, as in high school years, he was a champion debater. He married his college sweetheart, Catherine (Cathy) Plautz in August 1958.
Following service as an officer in the United States Navy, where he specialized in in antisubmarine intelligence, Jack joined the FBI as a Special Agent in 1963. His first office was the Fort Worth Resident Agency, which is under the Dallas Field Office. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963, immediately caused all FBI personnel to be assigned to that investigation for a considerable time, including Jack.
He was routinely transferred after a few years to another FBI field office as was the Bureau’s custom, and that office was St. Louis. Jack worked on Security cases for an extended period and climbed the ladder to become a supervisor. He earned another promotion in 1977 and was transferred to FBIHQ Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to help supervise the massive effort to establish compliance with the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts. In 1980, Jack was promoted to a prestigious position as the Chief of the Research Unit in the Bureau’s Office of Public Affairs. There, he would oversee the writing of articles and annual reports, historical research, the FBI’s public archives, and the hiring of the FBI’s first official Historian.
Also, he would manage the Bureau’s anticrime outreach work to the public and participate in other special events.
He genuinely enjoyed managing the Research Unit and would hold the position for the remainder of his FBI career. He retired in 1986.
Upon retirement, Jack was employed by a private contactor as a background investigator for eight years. His skills were so broad that he also became a freelance employee for companies which supplied professional managers on a temporary basis for companies or organizations experiencing staffing shortages.
While doing all of this for decades, he was deeply involved with other important matters: being a husband, raising six children, and being active in his church and community. But there was more. A lot more.
He was an expert in Old Time Radio, the genre that was immensely popular in the United States on AM radio for many years. Shows about heroes, comedies, sports, cowboys, spies, police, military, and yes, the FBI, were broadcast for free (albeit with commercials) as prime entertainment. Links to current online broadcasts of Jack’s favorite FBI programs can be found here on FBIOGRAPHY. Jack authored countless articles and two books on OTR: Private Eyelashes: Radio’s Lady Detectives and Radio Rides the Range. His first book, Private Eyelashes, won the Agatha Award for Best Non-Fiction and was released as a Talking Book by the Library of Congress.
On top of this, Jack was doing something unexpected. He was an accomplished actor for years, even when working in the FBI. He appeared in over 40 community theatre dramas and was so accomplished that he earned a union membership in the Screen Actors Guild –American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). He appeared as an actor and a an extra in over a dozen major films as well as in the television shows Homicide, America’s Most Wanted, Unsolved Mysteries, Veep, and House of Cards.
In recent years, he formed his own lecture business, and spoke (sometimes in period clothing) to enthusiastic audiences at museums, social clubs, and senior facilities on a variety of topics which, not surprisingly, included OTR, the Lindbergh Kidnapping, Civil War heroines, and Early Women Aviators.
In two of his last creative accomplishments, Jack became the first contributor to FBIOGRAPHY. He reviewed and critiqued some of the major books about the Lindbergh Kidnaping and helped establish the section featuring Old Time Radio broadcasts.
Jack is survived by his loving wife Cathy of 65 years, his six children Bradford, Marquita, Neil, Phillip, Cecilia, and Matthew, nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
ERNEST JOHN PORTER
A retired Unit Chief and Supervisory Public Affairs Manager at the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, DC, Mr. Porter worked with authors, radio shows, motion pictures, television shows, documentaries, FBI History, lecturing, and special projects for the FBI for nearly 40 years. He is the developer, owner, and manager of FBIOGRAPHY.