From Pathfinder to pollinator, alumnus Frank Mortimer publishes new book


Sofie Mortimer

Frank Mortimer, a certified beekeeper in New Jersey, stands smiling next to a Cornell University sign where he teaches a beekeeping course. Photo by: Sofie Mortimer 

Spending time in the beehive is a peaceful experience for 1984 alumnus Frank Mortimer. As he holds a frame with nearly 400 bees on it, he can smell the honey, touch the wax and feel the fuzz on the bees’ bodies. At this magical moment when he is attuned to the rhythm of the beehive, he is no longer simply a beekeeper but feels like he is one with nature. 

As a young student, Mortimer always found the world of bees fascinating. Joining the boy scouts and stopping to observe bees wherever he found them, he knew he wanted to pursue beekeeping in the future. However, he did not enter beekeeping right away; Mortimer started his high school and professional career as a writer. Writing for the Pathfinder and The University News, he graduated from St. Louis University with a degree in communications and went on to work at a textbook advertising agency. These early experiences would soon be helpful for his bee adventures.  

“I blossomed when I started at the Pathfinder. That’s where my interest in writing started and I think that that definitely foreshadows into my future,” Mortimer said. “I liked to do feature stories on people. I was never a hard news person [or] a sports guy so it was that human interest or cultural stories that I liked to dig into.”

Frank Mortimer holds a frame of bees while wearing a bee net around his face and gloves on his hands. Mortimer cares for over 15 beehives with thousands of bees. “A hive is like a filing cabinet. In each filing cabinet, [there’s] 10 file folders called frames where the queen bee lays the eggs or where bees store honey. The bottom drawer in the filing cabinet tends to be their nursery. The next one up is where they store honey for themselves,” Mortimer said. “Then on top of that, I start putting more boxes for me because bees have this natural instinct to just make honey if there’s room. So by giving them more room, they’ll keep [making] honey for as long as they can.”
(Sofie Mortimer)

After moving to New Jersey, he attended a talk at a library and got his first official introduction to beekeeping. Shortly after in 2007, he joined the local beekeeping club and began his journey as a certified beekeeper.

“New Jersey, where I live, is the most densely populated state, and I’m in the most densely populated area of that state, so it surprised me that there were that many people in a very suburban area that would want to keep bees, and that they could sustain a club. I joined the club and that’s how I got my first bees,” Mortimer said. 

He recalls that in those early moments, many people discouraged him from pursuing beekeeping, dismissing it as a silly idea or hobby. At one point, after his first beehive died, he too felt discouraged. 

“When my first hive died, then I had to make a decision: did I want to keep doing this hobby or quit? I decided I want to keep doing it. But if I’m going to do it, I want to do it right,” Mortimer said. “I really dug in and took some classes and read books and went to other beekeeping meetings to increase my level of knowledge so I can be successful in the future.”

After trial and error and learning from other beekeepers, Mortimer now has 15 hives in three different bee yards within a few miles of his house. In previous years, he has also had bees in his own backyard. In addition to the practical side of caring for bees, Mortimer enjoys reading about the small creatures. 

“I’m a self-described bee nerd. Honey bees are one of the most studied insects on the planet so there’s tons and tons of research and journal articles, and so you can constantly learn. There’s this whole cerebral part of it that’s just fascinating to me, as well as the practical part which gets you off the couch and going outside,” Mortimer said. 

Mortimer has written numerous articles and blog posts for various magazines and journals. Additionally, he has given nearly 125 talks about beekeeping to local organizations like schools. Combining his love for storytelling and bees, he decided to publish his own book. “Bee People and the Bugs They Love”, released June 2020, tells the story of Mortimer’s journey as a beekeeper, introducing readers to the world of bees and their caretakers. 

Frank Mortimer’s top three tips on how to help protect bees. Created by Leah Schroeder.

“It’s funny that back when I was [a student], I had said to people that I’m going to write a book someday, so it was something I always wanted to do. Then life got in the way and I stopped writing after college. What really changed for me is [becoming] a Cornell University certified master beekeeper. When I went through that program, I had a lot of encouragement from my instructor,” Mortimer said. “It’s a feel-good book and it’s designed to make people laugh. There [are] tons of books on honey bees. This is the first book that talks about beekeepers, and it is this cast of characters that I’ve encountered along the way.”

Writing the first draft took Mortimer nine months and editing took another two months. During this long process, he found joy in the stories he would be sharing with his future readers. 

“The wild thing is just how many people have liked it. One of the most renowned beekeeping researchers in the world, Dr. Tom Seeley, endorsed my book and said that ‘Frank the bee man is the top ambassador for beekeeping’ so that meant a lot,” Mortimer said. “It was also reviewed by the New York Times. It’s nice to get these positive reviews from people you’ve never met. It’s really humbling.”

Mortimer currently works for a marketing agency as well as an adjunct professor at Cornell University’s Master Beekeeping Program. Beekeeping remains his hobby, one that takes on a major part of his life as well as his family’s.