For the second time in a year, mourners came to New England churches to celebrate the passing of a beloved sports writer. Last year, hundreds went to Boston to recall the life of the singular tennis pioneer Bud Collins. This year, mourners remembered another giant of journalism, Frank Deford, in Westport, Connecticut.
One of the most appealing suburbs in America, the town has been home for a super cook (Martha Stewart), a super commentator (Jim McKay), a super cop (the FBI’s Jim Comey), a super criminal (Paul Newman, who played the lovable Butch Cassidy), a super novelist (F. Scott Fitzgerald) and a super journalist, the gigantic talent Frank Deford.
Carey Winfrey, a former editor of Smithsonian Magazine, provided Inside Tennis with an exclusive, intimate account of a moving service for a wordsmith who touched so many. On June 11th, Winfrey wrote:
“I drove to Westport for Frank’s service yesterday, which was very nice, held in the church that he frequented when they lived there. The church was pretty full – maybe 200-250 people including Billie Jean King, the only notable I spotted other than speaker Bryant Gumbel. Carol Deford’s sister is a deacon of a church in Rhode Island, and she spoke fondly of Frank, saying god had prepared a place for him in heaven ‘in 50 shades of purple, with the thermostat set to 80 degrees and no guacamole.’
Frank’s youngest brother Gill recalled how Frank, despite a significant age difference, was a wonderful big brother who never condescended to him. Frank taught him baseball and, less successfully, took him to the racetrack. Older brother Mac recalled how Frank kissed him when Mac said good-bye after visiting him in Key West a couple of months ago. Frank had never done that before, suggesting he knew the end might be near.
Gumbel said Frank “took his work seriously, but never took himself seriously. Nothing could do justice to the man. The man was a giant, both physically and in his work. We all benefited from our association with him. He was a troubadour, a star, a conscience and a poet.”
The service ended with a playing of Frank’s farewell NPR commentary, which was enormously touching and all-too-sadly appropriate. It was followed by a playing of ‘Ripple’ by Jerry Garcia, a song that Frank particularly liked. After the service there were refreshments…Carol seemed fine, though she looked tired. She lost it a bit talking to Gumbel, but otherwise held up well.”