Frank Devlyn was always one of my most favourite persons in Rotary — a person, I’d always think of as an ideal Rotarian.
Tall, 6ft 3 inches maybe, slim, handsome, with a booming baritone, he’d always stand out in any gathering. And, when he’d see you around, he would stride over and he’d say, Buenos Dias, Amigo, or just Ola, and give you a bear hug with his typical Abrazo (hug, in Spanish).
And, you would immediately start feeling it was a wonderful day. It’s hard to believe that Frank is not there any more, gone up somewhere for a higher calling, and that now we’ll miss his Olas and hugs, forever.
So, when I sit down to pen my thoughts about him, where do I begin? Maybe, by saying that he was born in 1939, and it was Dr Carlos Canseco, the Father of PolioPlus, who mentored him in Rotary. He became the Governor of RI District 4170 in Mexico in 1977–78, and rose rapidly, through the ranks, to become an RI Director in 1986–88 and a TRF Trustee in 1996–98, in an interrupted tenure and got chosen to serve as the President of RI in 2000–01.
I still remember the 2001 Texas Convention when he called Gloria Rita to the podium after a long closing address and she brought the house down by saying: ‘Frank, it’s time to go home.’
But though Frank lived and loved Rotary, he was a visionary and hard-working businessman. Indeed, providing vision, literally, to the world was his business and the Devlyn Optical Group, which produced eyeglasses, lenses and everything optical, grew alongside with his Rotary engagement. In fact, Frank gave away a million free glasses to promote eye care awareness, and over the years, came to be known as a great philanthropist in Mexico. His optical business too became one of the largest in the world.
I happened to be with Frank one day at some RI Committee meeting in the US, when he received a call from the Nominating Committee in Evanston, which was trying to contact him. He just said: ‘Yes, I’ll be happy to serve’, and disconnected the phone. I asked him, ‘Frank, what was that about?’ He replied: ‘It seems they have chosen me to be President for 2000–01.’ And I said: Oh my God! Aren’t you happy? He replied: ‘Yes. But I hadn’t expected it so soon.’
Frank chose Create Awareness, Take Action as his theme for his year. And his district governors formed his Action Team. Both before and after he assumed office as the RI President, Frank and his Rotary Anne, Gloria Rita, had visited India many times, often representing the RI President at district conferences, to almost all the major Indian cities and some smaller ones too. Being Mexican, they loved our spicy hot Indian food.
Frank always encouraged Indian clubs to admit more women not only in Rotary but in positions of leadership too.
After continuing his Rotary service as TRF Trustee in 2002–05 and as its Chair in 2005–06, the next year, he chaired the emerging concept of Future Vision in TRF and headed the Avoidable Blindness Task Force in 2001–03. Even after his tenure in TRF, he served on the Rotary Action Group for Peace.
Over the years, Frank was always one of the most sought after speakers on Rotary platforms. As his popularity grew, Frank went on to express his major Rotary concerns through his writings. He authored five best sellers in a few years on public speaking, on The Rotary Foundation, leadership, and two books titled Frank Talk and Membership Growth and Retention.
But despite being a larger than life person, Frank always had his feet on the ground. He endeared himself to people by asking for your visiting card or calling you always by your name, or handing you plastic tie pins to hold your tie in place, or giving you a plastic sample of his glasses to try out — ‘glasses for the masses’, he called them — or wearing a badge to show you that he had attended 46 RI Conventions!
Indeed, it’s amazing how Frank left his indelible mark and his memories in whatever he did.
He would say, Buenos Dias, Amigo, or just Ola, and give you a bear hug and you would immediately start feeling it was a wonderful day.
He helped RI to purchase its present 18-storeyed headquarters in Evanston, since our first HQ on 1600 Ridge Avenue nearby was proving a bit small. For so many years our headquarters building has continued to serve our needs.
I also remember today as clearly as if it happened only yesterday, the closing session of Frank’s San Antonio Convention in Texas in June 2001. Frank’s final closing address had been going on for some time as the Convention drew to a close. Then finally, he asked Gloria Rita, standing nearby, to come to the podium for a few closing remarks. And she brought the house down by saying: ‘Frank, it’s time to go home!’
On May 28, as Gloria Rita and their children, Melanie, Stephanie and Jennifer told us tearfully that our beloved Frank had given up his battle with pancreatic cancer, the world stood up to say: Farewell, Frank. You will always be in our hearts. May you continue to light up the Heavens forever with your sparkling smile.
The writer is past RI president.