Dr Frank Hutson Gregory

Frank Gregory lived a shameful life, by his own accounts. He loved to shock people, but had the misfortune to live in an age and environment where his preferred methods no longer worked. Illicit sex, for instance, has had little shock value through the last few decades; illicit sex in Bangkok possibly none at all.

When I first met him, some forty years ago, he was just passing through that city. I was editing a business magazine there; he needed paid employment. Gangly, tall, unkempt, hound-faced, preposterously rude and facetious, I took to him immediately. He had come from England, where he’d studied maths and logic; I think of him as the last of the desiccated analytical philosophers; a kind of hippie Bertrand Russell. His ability to assimilate and manipulate “factoids,” then wittily narrate them, made him an invaluable rewrite man. Too, his casual assumption that everyone in business and public life would prove corrupt, put him constantly ahead of the story.

Like many who passed through Bangkok, without ever moving on, he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. Asked flatly, he said he was researching a coffee-table book on the brothels of Asia. He recounted adventures in “the cages of Calcutta,” in Gang Dolly, in the “walled city of Kowloon” — then mentioned that he had made it all up. For the bargirls on Patpong, he was a real trial: more interviewer than customer. He gave his religion as, “Antinomian,” on all government forms.

Secretly, he had a fierce sense of justice, and would do things unprompted that were disquietingly honourable. Then deny what he had done, when caught.

His politics were conventional mild Left; his satirical works limited to the sarcastic. But he had a splendid eye for the ludicrous, and an ear for the devastating verbal slip. He had, in my opinion, the potential to make mischief that would be positively divine, but wasted it on atheism.

He grew older, out of my view. By the time of his death, last month, he had written various serious papers on logic, the application of logic, its cultural transmission; on number, “information theory,” and other dimensions of reasoning. But from his letters I gathered that he remained the same old Frank; albeit settled into a traditional northern Thai house in the paddy near Chiang Mai; with Napat, the woman who cared for him through horrible sickness as she had in his health, and was (I have on good information) there, selflessly there, by his bedside to the end.

It does not surprise me that he could command such loyalty, in a lover as in old friends; for he was himself abidingly loyal. We could see a strange innocence through his protestations of guilt. I remember how he tormented me, for having become a Christian; but too, the affection he concealed beneath that. He was unusual in wanting the best for people.

I have been thinking much of death lately, as several near to me have recently pushed off. I can hardly explain why this death hit me hardest; this mourning a life all future, that has become all past. If Frank could die, anyone could die: perhaps I mourn discreditably for myself. Or maybe it’s just that I loved the guy.

George, Wolfgang, and Julian went up from Bangkok to the cremation at Chiang Mai. Old buddies, still in Thailand after all these years. Had I stayed, I would have been in the fourth seat.