Frank Devlyn was tall man and whenever we met, he would embrace me very warmly saying, “My President, Abrazo.” As he hugged me, a much shorter person, my head would reach his chest. I would always respond, “My friend, your heart meets my mind.”
My Rotary journey with Frank started in May, 1978 in Boca Raton, Florida, US, when he was the incoming district governor and I was International Group Leader (now known as International Discussion Leader). We became co-travellers from 1983, when then RI President-elect Dr Carlos Conseco introduced him saying, “Raja, you will see Frank rising to great heights.” Frank did rise to prophetic heights both in Rotary and in his profession. Indomitable spirit packed into his tall frame, he achieved success step by step.
Frank and I became totally committed to the programme Rotary Village Corps initiated by PRIP MAT Caparas during his presidency in 1986–87 and I became Chairman of the committee. Next year, I continued as Chairman and Frank became RI Director Liaison to the committee. It became very popular in Asia and South America but not the developed countries. The incoming RI leadership was not fascinated with this programme and there was a murmur that it would be abandoned.
But then came the 1989 CoL, where both Frank and I were voting delegates. There was a proposed enactment dealing with credit of attendance in the club. Frank picked it up and rose to propose an amendment that a Rotarian attending a meeting of Rotary Village Corps would get attendance credit, just like attending Rotaract meeting. Without much opposition the amendment passed. With this good thinking, Rotary Village Corps became part of Rotary’s constitutional document and now the programme wouldn’t be touched or dropped. That was Frank.
A funny and coincidental event happened when Frank and Gloria Rita, Usha and I arrived at the Seoul Airport in May 1989 by different flights to attend the Rotary Convention. There was a common bus to take Rotarians to Hotel Intercontinental. We boarded the bus and four of us were sitting in the last row. Suddenly, Frank stood up and announced, “We have on the bus the next Rotary International President.” As everyone started looking around, he continued, “He is Raja Saboo.” There was applause. I had no such idea at all. The next nomination for the RI President was traditionally to be from the US, but lo and behold, just five months later in October, 1989, I was selected by the Nominating Committee to be RI President for 1991–92. Was Frank an astrologer?
In 1988–89, immediately after his directorship, Frank was Chairman of International RVC Committee and Kalyan Banerjee its Vice-Chairman. Thanks to Frank and his action, Rotary Village Corps (RVC) became a permanent programme of RI as it continues even now as Rotary Community Corps.
Since 1986, Frank’s dedication towards PolioPlus was complete and he continued to pursue it vehemently. During TRF’s 75th anniversary in1991–92, MAT Caparas as Trustee Chair and I as RI President formed a high-powered committee to celebrate it and Frank was one of its members.
Frank swiftly rose to the top position as RI President, but during his ascendency, or later, never lost his common touch, meeting Rotarians, exchanging visiting cards and having at his class reunions at the conventions about 700–800 participants. His doors were open to all with a cheerful “Hola”…. but truly he spoke through his heart’s language.
He was very fond of India and at any opportunity would come to visit this country. He came to Chandigarh in the late 1980s with his daughter Melanie, and later attended many conferences and institutes. He came to India also as RI President to attend the International Population Summit in 2000 in Delhi organised jointly by Rotary and the Union Health Ministry. Whether at the convention or the International Assemblies, he would always find time to spend with Usha, discussing membership, Rotary projects, public awareness. Usha always advocated Rotary to break the four walls of the club meetings and let the outside world know what Rotary does. Frank shared the same thoughts, as his theme expressed, “Create Awareness, Take Action”. He was a live wire and forthright in his views. In the meeting of the Council of Past RI Presidents, he would give his opinion and would also be open to other views. I recollect that at these dinners he’d always bring branded goggles specially for the ladies.
Frank was a very loving and caring husband as we could see him push Gloria Rita’s wheelchair at international meetings. He was a truly devoted family man, and a giant entrepreneur as he multiplied his optical business with his daughters Melanie, Stephanie and Jennifer. He was a hero of humanity; warm, compassionate and magnanimous.
It was his inner qualities that made Frank the tallest of tall, larger than life. He was not a legend during his lifetime but has become legendary for all time for posterity.
I received an email from Frank on May 16 saying he had just learnt about PRID Sudarshan Agarwal’s passing on. Asking me for Usha Agarwal’s email id, he requested me to pass on his condolences to the family. What a man he was. He himself was suffering from galloping pancreatic cancer and he knew he had days to go, and yet he was thinking of our friend Sudarshan. Undoubtedly Frank will be meeting him up in the world of the angels.
The writer is past RI president.