In Memoriam: Frank Delaney
By CB Wismar
Regardless of the fact that Francis James Joseph Raphael Delaney… or “Frank” as we knew him… was born fully 18 months after the death of Irish novelist James Joyce, the two became fast friends.
Frank’s literary career was launched with the 1981 publication of James Joyce’s Odyssey: A Guide to the Dublin of Ulysses and grew exponentially from there. With 15 novels, eight volumes of non-fiction, 10 edited collections of prose and poetry, and four screenplays, Frank was a prolific, flamboyant literary personality.
But, just as important, from 2002 until his passing last week, he was ours.
Widely traveled – speaking, judging literary contests, espousing causes of literacy and education – Frank Delaney always found his way back to Kent where he and his wife, Diane Meier, were a vital part of our community. He was generous to a fault. Cliff Carlson, writing in Irish Times, summed up Frank’s life beautifully: “He had it all, and he gave of it willingly.”
A broadcaster and producer, Frank began his career as a newsreader on Irish radio, and then moved to the BBC where he created and hosted programs focused on literature and the arts. By his own count, he interviewed more than 3000 of the best and brightest. His regular podcast series “Re:Joyce” has been downloaded over 2.5 million times as Frank explored “Ulysses” line by line in a series that was scheduled to run until 2026.
When Frank Delaney died on February 21, the worldwide outpouring of sympathy, the tributes and acknowledgments of his genius and charm, were quick to follow. After all, NPR had named him “the most eloquent man in the world,” and Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins offered up this reflection: “It is with great sadness that I have heard of the passing of Frank Delaney, acclaimed novelist, broadcaster and journalist. He was recognized as an important scholar on the work of James Joyce and an influential Irish voice in the UK and further afield.”
Diane and Frank opened their home to support the local causes that meant so much to them. This past fall, they welcomed the Northwest Connecticut Arts Council to their beautifully restored barns where Frank conducted a lively, charming interview with Cornwall resident, actor Sam Waterston. The event, a fundraiser for the Arts Council, signaled the first time the near neighbors had met each other. Their conversation wound through Frank’s self-declared five acts of Sam’s life and left the audience totally charmed.
Remembering the day, Waterston lamented Frank’s passing. “Lynn and I got home that evening and both commented on what a wonderful experience it had been and how great it was that Frank lived so close to us. We looked forward to getting to know Frank and Diane better. More’s the loss.”
Many of Frank’s books drew on the fierceness, the drama and the beauty of nature as backdrop for his magical storytelling. His devotion was underscored by his support of both the Kent Land Trust and the Housatonic Valley Association. Celebrating the HVA’s 75th anniversary, Frank penned the poem “River Words,” which he read to an eager dinner audience. His words of tribute concluded:
“We live by a river we love and guard,
Yes, our own lovely, bright Housatonic.”
Celebrating his life and contributions, the HVA posted a remembrance on its website, complete with an outpouring of sympathy. “How fortunate we are to count Frank as an ambassador and friend. We hold Diane and their family in our hearts with sorrow and love.”
His fundraising efforts for the Kent Land Trust, the Housatonic Musical Theatre Society, and the Young Writers Celebration in Washington, Conn., as well as his participation in Kent Presents – not to mention his regular Rural Intelligence readership – set Frank apart. Without putting too fine a point on it, he will be missed.
His lifelong devotion to Joyce seemed a fitting source to find the words with which we celebrate him. “Better pass boldly into that other world in the full glory of some passion than fade and wither dismally with age.”
In “full glory” he did pass, and we are the poorer for it.
Read our 2011 interview with Frank Delaney: 20 Questions for Author Frank Delaney.