An Appreciation: There was only one Frankie Wilson!

"It's sport, I'm good at it."

The late Frankie Wilson. (Photo: Presseye)
The late Frankie Wilson. (Photo: Presseye)

From the wrong mouth, that has the potential to sound boastful, arrogant, maybe even a little disrespectful. From Frankie Wilson's mouth it sometimes sounded all three, yet he always got away with it. Better still, he always garnered a smile with it. And usually from an unsuspecting recipient blissfully unaware they were about to hear the minutiae of Frank's hat-trick in a Collingwood Cup final, his trips to the World Students Games (Buffalo, if they were really unfortunate!), his 'Man of the Match' display against All Ireland champions, Donegal, going man-for-man against Roy Keane, squaring up to Dan Petrescu or any one of a million other tales from a lifetime in the Irish League or his inter-county days with Antrim.

Whatever the spark, that phrase - Frank's phrase - always kicked off a bit of craic you just knew was going to be memorable. You see life, like sport, is in the delivery, something Frankie understood perfectly.

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It's an outlook that explains why he never sat still. Frank's phone calls were perpetual motion, only ever delivered in transit from Point A to Point B. Teams were selected, plans were made, lads' breaks were plotted and all from the driver's seat of a vehicle whose hygiene was often compromised by kitbags in various stages of decomposition. They say ask a busy man if you want something done and Frankie was one of the busiest and always on behalf of others. How else could you describe someone prepared to drive his mates around Ireland on his own stag do (the 'No Drinks Until Destination' rule lasted 3 minutes among the gathered passengers!).

That's what made his passing in the early hours of Friday, October 28th all the more shocking. Illness may have made it inevitable but Frankie refused to allow even terminal cancer to dictate to him. He tricked you into believing it was just another opponent about to fall under his spell. The same charm and charisma which made Frank impossible to dislike even if he was - for a completely random example - constantly reminding you of an increasing lack of hair which stood in stark contrast to his own perpetually dark, Hollywood standard locks.

His love affair with Derry started in the mid-90s with a first permanent teaching post at St. Joseph's Boys in Creggan, a post which would be followed by the Head of PE post at Lumen Christi where he liked to refer to himself as a founding father. I'm still not sure it was tongue in cheek! You see Frank was never stuck for conversation, nor an opinion or two. If kissing the blarney stone gives any Irish man the gift of the gab, Frank must have swallowed three or four boulders on every visit to Cork!

It's a measure of the man that his stay in Derry was less than a decade but his impact is still so keenly felt by the students he taught and the friends he made. He loved the place and the feeling was mutual.

Two of his three wonderful kids were born in Derry while patrons in the Abercorn Bar still talk about the 'Frankie Wilson Final' when he showed up late for a Terry Kelly Cup decider, came on at half-time with his team 2-0 down and subsequently scored two and set one up in a memorable 3-2 Abercorn win. He may have mentioned it a few times himself over the years as well!

He loved winding up the "Derry wans" but always in that self depreciating, disarming way which told you no harm was meant and that he was fully prepared to take his own stick in reply. In fact, he insisted on it. Meet Frankie once and he was your friend. Meet him more than once and he was your friend for life. Just ask anyone at St. Joe's or Lumen while he was there, something that's even more true of Our Lady's and St. Patrick's, Knock where he found his true teaching home after leaving Derry.

There are not enough pages to cover the stories about Frank, stories that will be used at barstools and kitchen tables long into the future. Frank was a 'You had to be there' type person. Words can't adequately convey his energy, enthusiasm or warmth, nor do the man he was justice but trying to do that left me wondering just how we best measure the impact of any life? Is it professional success? Money? Longevity? Fame?

None of those begin to scratch the surface with Frank but having had the privilege of spending time with him as he courageously fought his illness over the past 10 months, Frank is perhaps best summed up by a well known quote oft used by his great mate, Michael McCloskey, from the classic Christmas tale, 'It's a Wonderful Life'. After saving George Bailey, the Angel Clarence takes his leaves with some parting advice and a word of thanks;

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“Dear George,remember no man is a failure who has friends.Thanks for the wings,Love Clarence.”

Frank had a unique habit of making everyone he met feel like they could fly. He gave so many students, sports people, colleagues and friends their 'wings' in life. He did it with cheek, charm and the odd story or two about himself but if friendship and family is the measure of a person, Frankie was the richest of us.

It's life, he was good at it.

Frank’s Month’s Mind Mass will take place on Sunday, December 4th in St. Anne’s Church, Dunmurray.